Posts Tagged ‘Fed funds’

There’s Method in Warren Buffett’s Madness

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Warren Buffett’s loyal followers are wondering what got into the Oracle of Omaha6a00d834a6138369e200e54f0aa7a68833-500wi when he told CNBC  that this is “a great time to be in banking“, praised Wells Fargo’s massive earning power, and said that the government doesn’t need to provide capital to or nationalize banks.

Although some critics dismissed Buffett’s statements as biased because he owns large stakes in Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp, he may be dead right.

Buffett was talking about lending, and it’s the “spread” that counts – the difference between the interest rates banks charge for the loans they make and the rate they pay to borrow that money.  When the Federal Reserve makes deep interest rate cuts, spreads widen and loans become more profitable.  The Fed funds rate is so low right now that Wells Fargo is borrowing cheaply and profiting handsomely on the loans it makes.

Although banks do need to recapitalize, they currently are saving money by cutting dividends paid to investors.  Every dollar they make goes into recapitalization.  With stricter government oversight, banks are required to operate more efficiently.  The irony is that these conditions are almost identical to what helped the nation recover from its last banking crisis during the 1990 – 1991 recession.  In fact, the banks 19 years ago were in worse shape than they are today; yet they were not nationalized or put into receivership.  Once the Fed cut interest rates, banks’ lending policies became more conservative, and they eventually recovered.  The same scenario could play out this time around.

Green Buildings Impacted by the Credit Crunch, Recession

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

The credit crunch and sluggish return-on-investment environment are impacting green commercial real estate development – and not in a good way.  Even on projects where dirt actually gets moved, it will be more difficult to incorporate sustainable design principles as companies become more cost conscious.  The greening of the workplace should pick up once again if the high cost and availability of capital eases during 2009.  Already, the Federal Reserve Board’s two half-point interest-rate cuts, which slashed the overnight Fed funds rate to one percent, are having a measured but positive influence. According to National Real Estate Investor magazine, the credit freeze is not the only stumbling block to green projects right now.  Moderating fuel prices, currently at their lowest level in four years, are making renewable power sources – such as solar and wind – seem expensive at a time when people want to save money.  Still, companies with a serious commitment to green principles are motivated by a willingness to minimize their carbon footprint and conserve resources, rather than to just save a few dollars on utilities.

The bad news for sustainable-design proponents is that the recession may frustrate the federal government’s plan to offer tax credits to promote green design.  The reason is that tax credits cut a company’s tax bill; they offer little motivation to firms whose earnings are likely to be flat or suffer net losses during 2009.  Looking on the bright side, the credit crunch may stimulate awareness of sustainability by businesses looking for ways to control expenses over the long term.

The economy shouldn’t put green in the tank, and people should recognize that deflation is always temporary.  The options and futures market will bring energy costs up again.

Rising Inflation Rates Demand Caution When Investing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Inflation has returned with a vengeance, with a 1.1 percent increase reported during June – courtesy of soaring energy and food prices.  The Federal Reserve reacted to the warning signs on June 25, when it froze the Fed funds rate at two percent – ending nine months of rate cuts that it hoped would revive the shaky economy.  Right now, the Fed believes that rising food and energy costs will negatively impact the economy for several quarters to come.  Consumers agree.  A survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Year-Ahead Inflation Survey concluded that consumers believe inflation will reach an annual rate of 5.2 next year, the highest level since 1982.  Because they feel so pinched, people will be extremely cautious with their money.

Typically in an inflationary environment, investors look to lock their capital into assets that will protect value over the long term.  However, every time the Fed hikes its overnight fund rates, it becomes more expensive for banks to lend money.  So we have the capital markets acting as a restraint against the natural cycle of surging reinvestment in an inflationary environment.  The best advice for investors seeking a haven is to focus on quality – triple-net-leased, high-credit buildings in strong markets.  These buildings will protect the value of capital and even have good prospects for appreciation.

As consumers, we have the deflationary economy until the dwindling profits hit our businesses.  What’s the best way to ease the slide?