As was widely anticipated, the Feds have dropped the Fed Funds Rate to 1%. Rate cuts, coupled with other measures, seem to be gaining some traction at lowering LIBOR rates to which more than $360 trillion of financial products are tied. SIBOR seems to trend lower while SOR continues to oscillate. As central banks worldwide continue to cut rates (with few exceptions, if any, other than Iceland), interest rates in general should remain relatively low. Analysts are even speculating that the Feds could drop rates to zero percent.
Speaking of low interest rates, i received calls from two banks just today and yesterday offering to loan money at zero interest for 3 months. One bank even offered to waive the administrative fee they typically charge for the so-called zero interest loans. Seems to me banks are desperate to get money out their door, which makes me wonder if there has been an increase in money supply? My fellow blogger lowem notes that “M3 money supply growth has bottomed out in recent months and are on an up-trend again” and concluded that inflation is going to “roar back with a vengeance”. This might just be the case unless Japanese style deflation takes place, watch out..
Continuing the wild ride of the past few weeks, SOR began the week at 1%, soaring to 2.11% mid-week and finishing the week at 1.63%. SIBOR was slightly less volatile, ranging between 1.38% and 1.63%.
Meanwhile, home prices in Singapore fell in the third quarter for the first time in more than four years, the FTSE Straits Times Real Estate Index dropped 56 percent this year and rentals are starting to fall. The recession looks set to hit the property market badly. Home owners may get to enjoy lower mortgage rates if further rate cuts come. This is already seen to be happening in Australia where rates were cut by a full percentage point by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
The Federal Reserve cut the Fed Funds Rate from 2% to 1.5% ahead of the FOMC meeting at the end of the month in a coordinated effort with the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and central banks in Canada, Switzerland and Sweden. This was to ease the economic effects of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The rate cut did not have an immediate effect, however, as markets continued to tumble across the world and the London interbank offered rate (Libor) rose to its highest levels. Libor is said to determine rates on $360 trillion of financial products worldwide, from home loans to derivatives. There are signs that Libor will ease off, but for the mean time, the target rate mechanism is broken.
When the markets stabilize, we should see things returning to their normal course of action, and that means lower home loan rates given that global interest rates are down with possibly more cuts in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, analysts say retrenchments are expected as early as December, so brace yourselves as this financial turmoil really hits home.
The past few days have been the most volatile on all financial fronts, be it equities, exchange rate or interest rates. In Singapore, the 3 months SIBOR spiked to 2.23% due to “spillover from the US funding freeze and also the increase in risk aversion in the local interbank market”. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) had increased liquidity in the local money market in their effort to keep SIBOR in check.
Changes to the SIBOR directly affects home owners who have opted for loans pegged to it. The rise in SIBOR have resulted in more opting to peg their loans to the 12 months SIBOR. While this may protect them from further increase in the interest rate, it also prevents them from enjoying lower interest rates should it fall in the near future. SIBOR could decline to 1% and remain around that depressed level for most of next year.
Indicators are foretelling further cuts to the Fed Funds Rate as the US scrambles to make credit available. Economists argue that “besides lowering rates, the Fed may not have many options beyond further expanding emergency lending programs or creating new ones”. Asia’s central banks have started to cut interest rates, including Taiwan and China. Perhaps we will see SIBOR and SOR ease off more soon.
There has been a lot of volatility in the SOR and SIBOR the past few days, reacting to the jump in LIBOR as people are “afraid to lend to one another”. The 3 month SOR has broken through the previous high of 1.63 to hit 1.7, since i started tracking it in April. This is in somewhat divergent from the recent report that mortgage rates are still at rock bottom.
The picture will be clearer after the dust has settled on the financial crisis that has erupted in the US, except that we don’t know when and what surprises may still come our way. My guess is that the appreciation in swap rates will be moderate. An analyst expects swaps to come off due to slowing economic growth and a tougher business climate. This, coupled with slowing demand for properties seems to have already triggered off competition among banks for the housing loan market, as evidenced by MayBank’s new offering.
With the collapse of Lehman Brothers, many were wondering if the Feds will cut their target rates to help keep credit flowing. The FOMC decided to keep rates at 2%. However, the Fed’s statement is interpreted as a “signal it will consider a reduction in the future by acknowledging in its statement that strains in financial markets are increasing.” For a moment predictions showed a marked increase in the probability of the Fed Funds Rate falling to 1.75% but the probability fell immediately after the Feds Funds Rate were held steady.
While the Fed Funds Rate remained at 2%, actual loan rates may be a different story as “the cost of money has risen sharply above the Fed’s 2% target.” Banks have increasingly tightened credit since the sub-prime woes. Local interest rates in Singapore have been more or less stagnant for the past month or so. If it continues to have strong correlation to the Fed Funds Rate then the rates should continue to hover at current levels. However, given the drastic changes in the financial system in the US and its repercussions to the rest of the world, nobody can say for sure what will happen tomorrow. It may well turn out to be a complete meltdown, or hyperinflation or just a recession. Even as i am writing this, gold has just shot up 60 dollars, proving itself indeed to be the ultimate store of value.
I should be expecting a letter from my bank soon, telling me that the interest rate chargeable on my housing loan will be revised to 1.9%, with effect from September 1. This is a second time win for me, having my housing loan interest rate shaved by another 0.1%.
Predictions for the Fed Funds Rate tell us that it looks set to remain at 2% at least until October. Beyond that, “Federal Reserve policy makers agreed this month that their next change in interest rates will be to raise them.”, but we’ll have to wait till the next FOMC meeting announcement to get further clues on when the raise might come. Another factor to consider is the strengthening of the US dollar. The US dollar is still trending up against the Singapore dollar and interest rate parity suggests that interest rates in Singapore will fall as a result, which indeed seems to be the case for now.
Will i still get favourable rates come December when my SOR pegged home loan rates are revised again? I certainly hope so. Short term loan rates such as the 3 months SOR or SIBOR rates should have a good chance of staying lower than the 2 or 3 years fixed rates or floating rates, even after accounting for the1% interest rate banks typically charge on top of SOR or SIBOR. However, if interest rates were to appreciate sharply then i would have lost out on the opportunity to lock-in the current rates. Hopefully i can enjoy reasonable rates for at least the next 2 years with the SOR pegged home loan.
So far i have become acquainted with the Federal Funds Rate, bonds and foreign exchange. It’s time to look at two very important topics – inflation and money supply. This article looks at some of the implications of events taking place on inflation and money supply. The article presents (presumes) some important concepts and ideas that i thought would be interesting to extract as well as comment on. First, some important definitions from Wikipedia:
- Inflation means a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services over time. Economists agree that high rates of inflation are caused by high rates of growth of the money supply
- The money supply refers to the total amount of money held by the nonbank public at a point in time in an economy.
- The terms fiat currency and fiat money relate to types of currency or money whose usefulness results, not from any intrinsic value or guarantee that it can be converted into gold or another currency, but only from a government’s order (fiat) that it must be accepted as a means of payment.
- Money creation is the process by which money is produced or issued. There are two different ways to create money:
- physically manufacturing a new monetary unit, such as paper currency or metal coins
- loaning out a physical monetary unit multiple times through fractional-reserve lending
Now the article:
- CPI [Consumer Price Index] is the only inflation measure many people ever focus on even though it is so heavily massaged it borders on fiction (reads: CPI is what they want you to believe inflation is)
- hard money monetarists view all fiat currency as ultimately doomed stores of value – politicians and bureaucrats will always fall back on the printing press when times get tough and thereby erode the value of that currency. (Governments have the means to print money at will, see point 4 in this wiki entry)
- In the US, M2 (cash, current account deposits, and short-term savings deposits) have dived, going from a growth of 12% last year to an 8% contraction (so far) this year. This doesn’t bode well for growth figures. (There is a correlation between M2 money supply and nominal GDP)
- In addition to rocketing CPI, this is also a period of collapsing asset prices in large part generated by the backlash from that housing bubble. The question for markets is which set of price changes should it be responding to? Based on the unprecedented scale of asset price falls we think there is little doubt they will trump headline inflation numbers. (Higher CPI implies interest rates should be raised to curb inflation whereas falling housing or asset prices implies interest rates should be cut to encourage spending and economic growth)
- With unemployment in the US rising it is difficult imagine wage increases gathering steam. Wage-pushing higher in response [to] price gains has always been the mechanism that imbeds higher inflation and makes it so hard to control. (Price/wage spiral is one of the causes of inflation)
- Bernanke is a student of the Depression and most agree that credit contraction at the wrong time helped to create and prolong that disaster. Banks are so reluctant to lend right now that we can’t imagine Bernanke adding to the misery. He’s going to keep the lending lines open and there is little chance of a rate gain even in the face of high CPI numbers. (The Federal Reserve’s mission is to keep the economy afloat and avoid recession)
- We expect continued heavy spending on infrastructure in many regions, and that they could be joined by the US itself post election. The US needs that spending anyway and infrastructure has been proven to be some of the most effective “make work” money. One of the secrets to China’s success has been its willingness, and lack of impediments, to huge funding of money on roads, power, and communications. (Infrastructure spending is an effective way of creating jobs and spurring the economy)
- Infrastructure spending means “stuff” should to continue to be a winning sector, though maybe not next week or next month in terms of share prices. Commodity prices will continue to be historically strong, but it simply will take a better market environment for anyone to care. (Commodities will still be in high demand, i.e. prices should continue to rise in the long run, despite recent weakness)
- If shrinking credit markets continue to be the focus, the Fed will continue to be accommodative even while true-market interest rates (the spread) stay relatively high. Back stopping stupid investment banks and trying to rescue homeowners will mean more debt expansion for the US government. That combined with loose monetary policy will keep the US Dollar relatively weak. That will be a boon for gold and silver. (The Fed resorts to injecting liquidity to help rescue banks in trouble and in doing so they devalue the dollar. The recent scramble for dollar may explain why the dollar has gone up at a time when money is being injected)
The 3 month fixing SOR has gone up 0.10% for 2 consecutive days. This is probably attributed to the rising US dollar (falling Singapore dollar). According to interest-rate parity theory, the interest rate has to rise to make up for a fall in the currency so that it maintains parity with another currency.
For home owners on a floating-rate loan package who are keeping track of interest rate movements, perhaps this latest development in foreign exchange points to the need to keep abreast with developments in USD/SGD rates. Among the factors commonly cited for the dollar rise is the softening commodities prices. This report gives some interesting insight as to who was buying the dollar.
How much more will the US dollar rise? Some analysts think “the 5.1 percent growth of dollar against the basket of the 6 most-traded currencies that was seen in the past 3 weeks can’t be sustained by the American economy” (see article). Nevertheless, the US Dollar Index (USDX) is trading above 76 and the futures point to even higher quotes. Only time will tell.