Low interest rates have costs, not just benefits

interest rates paper

Kai Ryssdal: A quick check of the calendar tells us that it's been almost two and a half years -- 28 months, if you're counting -- since the Federal Reserve cut its short-term interest rate to near zero. We mention that because today Mr. Bernanke and the gang started a two-day meeting in Washington. A meeting at which, in theory, they're thinking about whether to adjust rates.

In reality, nobody's expecting any movement. Consensus seems to be that the first rate hike, if and when it comes, is at least several months away. Marketplace's Bob Moon has more on the push and pull of monetary policy.


Bob Moon: Neil Kasanofsky is a financial adviser with Raymond James in Port Charlotte, Fla., where he has a largely retired clientele. Many of his customers at Raymond James have seen their investment portfolios shrink in recent years, and now they're finding it next to impossible to catch up. And Kasanofsky says the traditional safe havens are no longer a realistic option.

Neil Kasanofsky: I can't, with a good conscience, tell somebody to purchase a five- or a 10-year CD, knowing we're going to have to deal with inflation and the dollar down the road. That would be something that would make me feel really horrible. You know, my clients actually feel like they're almost putting money under their pillow.

The AARP's legislative affairs director David Certner says that's put many older Americans in a tough spot.

David Certner: People who've lost a lot of money are faced with this choice of having to invest more risky to try to catch up, or to gain more than they maybe have lost in the last 10 years.

Certner says even Americans who haven't reached retirement age are faced with working longer hours to save more. Critics of the Fed's easy-money policy also complain it might actually be harming the recovery. John Michaelson is an investment manager in New York.

John Michaelson: The beneficiaries of the rates haven't been spending anywhere near as much as the people who are being impacted have lowered their spending.

Michaelson contends the policy is creating inflationary pressures for everything from food to fuel. And economist Robert Kuttner says if the Fed ends up having to raise rates to respond to that, it could lose the only tool it's had to stimulate the economy.

Robert Kuttner: That would be the worst of all worlds. That would be stagflation, where on the one hand you have inflation, and on the other hand, higher interest rates just are another dead weight on the economy.

That leaves the Fed with what Kuttner calls "not a lot of wholesome choices."

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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