We Want to Hear From You: Should the U.S. Federal Reserve Keep Interest Rates Low?

Email

After their meeting yesterday (Tuesday), U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers said they are more worried about deflation than inflation and vowed to look for ways to help along an economy that is experiencing worrisomely slow growth.

In fact, the central bank's rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said it plans to keep the benchmark Federal Funds rate at its record-low level unchanged between 0.00% and 0.25% for the 20th consecutive month. And, central bank policymakers said rates could remain that low for "an extended period."

In the near term, that appears justified. Core inflation is running at just 0.9%, below the Fed's comfort-level target of 1% to 2% – where it says the inflation rate needs to be for price stability. Fed Funds futures at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) now show that traders believe there is a 54% chance the Fed won't increase short-term rates until its November 2011 policymaking meeting.

In the interim, faced with a still-wheezing economy, the central bank may even start buying back large blocks of U.S. Treasury bonds – a technique that pushes liquidity out where its needed.

"The question for Fed members is, to what degree can monetary policy help the economy grow from here?" Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co., told Bloomberg.

Question of the Week
The Fed has kept interest rates near zero since December 2008. Keeping interest rates low to spur growth started during the Asian Contagion in 1997, when currency devaluations spread rapidly through Southeast Asia. Markets plunged, as did consumer and investor confidence, and foreign economies adjusted policies and lowered rates to regain footing.

Those lower U.S. interest rates contributed to the dot-com bubble that took off in the late 1990s: Startup money became easy for venture capitalists to obtain, fueling a speculative mania in Internet stocks that crashed in 2000.

When artificially low interest rates combine with rising standards of living, speculative bubbles form. Some analysts and economists have said long periods of low interest rates contributed to the U.S. housing bubble, and fear that another long period of ultra-low interest rates will eventually create more asset bubbles that will disrupt the healthy economic patterns to which the United States needs to return.

Still, the Fed is hesitant to raise rates amid weak economic data. A report released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) concluded that the most recent recession ended in June 2009. But economic growth that slowed to a 1.6% annualized rate in the second quarter has escalated fears of a "double-dip" recession. Unemployment remains at a stubbornly high 9.6% and is projected to stay above pre-recession levels until 2013, according to a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"The longer you have weak growth the longer you have no underlying healing in your economy," Ethan Harris, head of North American Economics at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, told Bloomberg News. "You don't heal the housing market, you don't heal the household balance sheet. By allowing growth to sit below trend, you create a huge window of vulnerability to a shock."

This brings us to the next installment of the Money Morning "Question of the Week": Should the Fed be looking to raise interest rates a lot sooner than is currently planned? Has this long stretch of near-zero interest rates already sown the seeds of another speculative problem down the road? Or is the central bank on the right path, understanding that a boost in rates now will thwart an already tepid and uneven recovery?

Send your thoughts, questions and concerns to mailbag@moneymappress.com.

[Editor's Note: Is there a topic you want to see covered as a "Question of the Week" feature? Then let us know by e-mailing Money Morning at mailbag@moneymappress.com. Make sure to reference "question of the week suggestion" in the subject line.

We reserve the right to edit responses for length, grammar and clarity.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate - via e-mail or by posting their comments directly on the Money Morning Web site.]

News and Related Story Links:

Join the conversation. Click here to jump to comments…

  1. Thomas G Kroger | September 22, 2010

    The Federal Reserve System is an abomination and should be dismantled. The market should decide interest rates, wages and prices. Period.

    It is the Interventionist state, and regime, that has gotten us into our current mess. When are we going to learn our lesson, that Marx had it all wrong, and that there is a reason why places like Switzerland are clean, affluent, and good places to live?

  2. John K. Patterson | September 22, 2010

    Maintaining artificially low interest rates, without also tempering the "account maintenance" fees charged by servicing institutions, is devastating investors and savers. An account balance which until 2008 generated more than enough to cover these fees now earns only about a tenth of them. It is an account which is closed to future contributions, and it is frustrating to watch its plundering by the institution "servicing" it.

  3. Tom Binkley | September 23, 2010

    Why are banks not lending to business?

    Ans: Interest rates are low.

    When interest rates increase banks will start to lend, the business economy will then start to move.

    Problem will then change to more people and businesses defaulting on previous debt.

    By devaluing your currency the national debt will be easier to deal with hence the QE moves.

  4. Paul | September 23, 2010

    If we don't abolish the Federal Reserve and the IRS there will be no saving the USA. Federal Reserve just prints paper, there is no real money to back it up, so likewise there is no debt.
    Abolish the Federal Reserve then hit the delete button on the (supposed and nonexistent) debt. Then abolish the illegal IRS and let the people keep their money. It will save thousands of houses from foreclosure, creat thousands of jobs and put "billions" back into the economy. It could be done and It's the only thing that would fix the country, without it Congress is just playing games and we are just slaves to the lying murdering warmongers that are running the world for their own benefit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


6 + eight =

Some HTML is OK

© 2015 Money Map Press. All Rights Reserved. Protected by copyright of the United States and international treaties. Any reproduction, copying, or redistribution (electronic or otherwise, including the world wide web), of content from this webpage, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the express written permission of Money Morning. 16 W. Madison St. Baltimore, MD, 21201, Email: customerservice@MoneyMorning.com