The Federal Reserve's Christmas gift to banks | Farmer

Category: Small Business Borrowing Published: Saturday, 02 January 2016 Written by Admin

Christmas, were reminded, comes but once a year, which it true unless youre in the financial industry in general and its banking subset in particular. Then its a year-round feeding festival.

This year the banks found under their tree a long-sought interest rate rise, a gift from the Federal Reserve, which acted in the belief - despite Republican claims to the contrary - that the US economy is doing just fine, thank you.

Wed better hope so. For the jack-up in interest rates, while modest, will translate overnight into higher costs for auto loans, home mortgages, small business borrowing, possibly even credit card fees and charges.

Just the sort of thing that could choke off the business rebound if the Fed has guessed wrong on strength in the economy. Its a crapshoot.

It theres a potential upside to the interest gambit its this: Banks and lending institutions could justifiably raise the current next-to-nothing rates on individual saving accounts, the instrument so many middle income Americans count on as a hedge against increases in everyday living costs.

Be a nice Christmas gesture.

The banks could do that and probably will in time - but dont hold your breath waiting for that great day. If history is any guide they do it in their own sweet time. They wont be hurried, these bankers; theyre, from all appearances, indifferent or immune to public opinion.

Recall the aplomb with which the big Wall Street bank moguls gave themselves hefty pay raises in 2009 fresh after having been bailed out by the federal government - raises often financed out of the bailout money.

Theyve no shame. It was a collective thumbing of the nose by the banking barons at the public that saved their ... assets, so to speak.

Anything that can be done about it? Not really. Financial policy is the province of a closed club of bank executives, federal and state regulators, the federal reserve governors and an armada of lobbyists arrayed in downtown Washington ever ready to swoop down on Congress should it show a shred of independence or consumer consciousness.

Its an incestuous group of people who move regularly between the financial industry and the Washington regulatory agencies, much like the often maligned military-Congressional-industrial complex. Theres no real difference and the conflict of interest is just as grievous.

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The knowledge of how the world of money works is too arcane and complex to be trusted to outsiders, they insist. For example, one justification for the rate is the cry that hand-wringing bankers have raised that Inflation is coming! Inflation is coming!

Its been coming, if you believe the banking crowd, for, lo, these many months, even years. Never seems to get here, however. But ... whatever, as Bob Dole used to say.

Its worth noting how little has been said during our dreadful presidential campaign about federal financial policy other than Republican griping about the federal deficit, which has been driven as much as anything by GOP inaugurated wars financed on the credit card.

Even Democrats have been mostly silent on the subject. One major criticism of Hillary Clinton involves her too-close ties to Wall Street, something most New Yorkers in Congress - even Democrats - suffer from.

One Democrat who doesnt is Vermonts curmudgeonly Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders as he made clear in a New York Times op-ed this week. He attacked the interest rate hike as the latest example of the rigged economic system.

Hes got a three-point cure. First, stop banks from gambling with depositors money. Second, quit rewarding the banks with interest on the excess reserves (now $2.4 trillion, he estimates) they keep stashed at the Fed. Third, compel banks to lend more to small business and hard-pressed homeowners and to cut credit card interest as a condition for financial help from Washington.

In addition, Sanders wants to restore Glass-Steagall, the Depression era act that split investment banking and the ordinary commercial kind. It was abandoned by Bill Clinton in a lousy 1999 deal with Republicans that set the stage for the Great Recession a decade later.

Hes got all good ideas but one: Sanders would break up the too-big-to-fail banks. Unfortunately, theyre probably necessary to ensure adequate financing for American businesses in a global economy. Without proper banks theres no proper credit.

Sanders deserves more attention than he gets. Hes a stealth candidate, I suspect. His supporters are passionate. He could raise hell if the Democratic race ended in a brokered convention where grassroots passion can overcome prudence, the prevailing wisdom and even the polls.

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