You don’t need a crystal ball to conclude that interest rates will rise significantly in 2014. If you think your business will need money in the next 24 months, the time to borrow is now.
The price of money is going up. Way up. Since late 2008, our economy has lived in an “interest-rate fantasy world” where the cost of borrowing money was extremely cheap. Everyone from Joe Smith looking for a mortgage to Uncle Sam financing a deficit has been able to borrow money at historically low rates.
It's no coincidence that rates have been so low. A confluence of factors has led to this:
- Over the past five years, the Federal Reserve has maintained a policy to keep the target federal funds rate (FFR) at between 0.0 percent and 0.25 percent, the lowest ever. This interest rate sets the benchmark for all other interest rates in our economy. The lower the FFR, the cheaper the interest you’ll pay on your loan.
- The Federal Reserve also implemented several rounds of quantitative easing, which means it purchased debt securities from banks for cash. This added trillions of dollars in available lending money. With the “supply” of money available to lend increasing, the price of lending that money went down.
- Foreign investors have had limited options for parking trillions of dollars in cash in safe places. The European economic crisis that started with Greece in late 2009 spread to other countries in the region. Suddenly, lending money to European governments—or even having money in euros—was seen as risky. This led to hundreds of billions of dollars being transferred to the U.S., creating an even greater supply of money here.
- The havoc caused by the housing and financial crises devastated consumer finances, cutting off people's ability to qualify for loans and making businesses think twice about borrowing to expand. This led to a precipitous decline in the demand for money just as the supply was increasing tremendously.
A Change Of Pace
This year, however, has been marked by significant changes in the global economy and in U.S. economic policy, which started reversing its history of low interest rates.
Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve announced that it would begin tapering off and eventually cease its quantitative easing program. This will drastically reduce the amount of new capital available for lending. But as the supply of money goes down, lenders will be able to charge more.
Conditions in Europe have also improved significantly. As of the second quarter of 2013, Germany’s economy, the largest in the region, has been growing and is no longer in a recession. Surveys taken of business owners and executives across the region indicate they're feeling optimistic about the future and plan to increase investments and hiring. These positive signs point to an overall stabilization of the European economy, making it a viable investment alternative to the U.S. once again. As a result, foreign investors have already begun taking money out of the U.S. and investing it in Europe, thus impacting the supply of money available for lending here.
China and Japan are dumping U.S. Treasury securities. Earlier this year, the two countries sold a net $40.8 billion worth of U.S. Treasuries. The U.S. owes nearly $2.4 trillion to these countries, so the sale is relatively small compared to their overall holdings, but relative to what the U.S. needs to borrow every month to keep paying its bills, it’s significant.
The reason they sold is precisely because they expect U.S. interest rates to go up. The price of a Treasury security goes down as interest rates go up. In order to avoid a drop in the price of their investments, these countries are trying to get out as much as they can as soon as they can. This presents a significant problem for the federal government. In order to make lending attractive to us, they'll need to raise the interest rates they offer on the money borrowed, which will lead to a general rise in rates.
Too Late To Borrow?
Rates have already been increasing since the spring, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start borrowing now. It'll still be cheaper to do it now than six months from now. The questions you need to ask are:
- Can I secure a fixed interest rate? Variable rates won’t help you, as they reset over time.
- Can I secure a fixed rate line of credit as opposed to a loan? This allows you to lock in access to the money without having to use it until you need it.
- Can I secure a fixed rate loan and put the money to good use? If you plan to borrow money now, do you have worthy projects for the money? You have to determine if it’s cheaper for you to borrow money now at a lower rate even though you may not be ready for it vs. waiting until you're ready for it but paying a much higher interest rate.
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