Friday, March 5, 2010

Normalizing Interest Rates?

With the end of the global recession now becoming more than merely a prediction, the time has come to begin the clean-up from the temporary measures that were a necessary part of the economy during the difficult financial times. In short, besides stimulus funds becoming part of the scenery, record low interest rates were also an everyday occurrence.

Interest rates, at near zero levels, were the Shangri-la of investors. Investors who could tap this virtually free money, profited well and the markets responded in kind. In a chain of events, this unprecedented boost of the markets helped restore confidence in the average household and greatly strengthened the ailing economy by fortifying its foundations. However, even the best of vacations must come to an end. Any student of economics will tell you that interest rates reflect and influence an economic situation. Artificially set rates will cause undue influence and possible damage. The current rates were set for an emergency situation. With the economic emergency now having been downgraded, the time has come to allow the markets to respond appropriately. The question now is the timing and magnitude of the normalization of rates. Having faced a near collapse of the financial sector in the Western world, it is crucial that the central banks of both the US and Canada time their adjustments accordingly. For example, towards the end of the Great Depression in the 30's, the US government pulled out its stimulus funds in a final push in 1937-38. This sudden move, due to improper timing, had a negative effect, pushing the US economy into a tailspin and sent the markets reeling.

Economists are mixed in their predictions as to the end of the rock-bottom interest rates. Most feel confident that neither the Governor of the Bank of Canada nor the U.S. Federal Chairman will allow a repeat of the Great Depression mistakes. However, even the latest of predictions for rate hikes is no later than early 2011. Some predict that rates will begin rising by this summer. In either case, investors should prepare themselves for a return to normalcy. The worst, we hope, is over.

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