- - Sunday, March 19, 2017


The Federal Reserve appears intent on raising interest rates at a quicker pace over the next two years.

Higher oil prices are pushing annual consumer price inflation close to the Fed’s 2 percent goal, and labor markets are tightening. It wants to moderate the pace of recovery before the economy overheats.

After keeping the benchmark overnight bank borrowing rate — the federal funds rate — near zero for 7 years, it raised that rate a quarter point at the end of 2015 and again in December 2016. Now we can anticipate two, three or even four quarter point rate increases each year.

Here are five things to expect.

Mortgage rates are not likely to increase a lot: The effects of Fed tightening depend on whether a higher federal funds rate pushes up the 10-year Treasury rate, because rates on mortgages, corporate and municipal bonds generally follow that rate up and down.

When Ben Bernanke raised the federal funds rate in 2004-2006, those rates hardly budged, because the Chinese government was purchasing U.S. bonds at a maddening clip to keep the yuan cheap against the dollar.

Now, the Chinese, Japanese and European economies all face endemic difficulties, and their monetary policies are likely to remain more accommodating than ours. Private investors are seeking safer and better returns in the United States and will continue purchasing bonds and other assets, limiting any increase in U.S. longer term rates.

Overall, the availability and cost of mortgages should not be greatly affected by Fed tightening.

Bank fees and car loans will go up: Tighter banking regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis have pushed up bank costs for providing ordinary retail services. Higher short-term borrowing rates for banks will make things even tougher. They will likely try to further boost fees on checking accounts and other services, and charge higher rates for short-term credit — credit cards, car loans and home improvements.

The good news is banks may start competing more for your money and pay higher rates on 1 to 5-year CDs.

Economic growth won’t be much affected: Households are more confident these days — jobs are easier to find and rising stock and home prices have boosted their wealth. These factors should overwhelm the consequences of somewhat higher short-term interest rates on consumer spending.

Higher oil and other commodity prices are inspiring more investment in oil and other resource-based industries, but the strong dollar against the yuan, yen and euro remains an issue. For manufacturers and service providers that compete globally, the former increases demand but the later accentuates competition from imports and makes U.S. sales abroad more difficult.

On balance though, economic growth should be close to 2.3 percent. That’s a bit more than the average 2.1 percent for recovery so far and for the Bush expansion but well below the 3.4 percent pace accomplished during the Reagan-Clinton era.

Trump administration impact on jobs and wages will be limited: President Trump won the recent election by promising to boost the economy by replacing Obamacare with something less expensive, cutting taxes on businesses and individuals, rolling back regulations and reducing trade deficits with China, Mexico and other trading partners. However, he faces tough challenges from Democrats, factions within his own party and foreign governments and appreciably stronger growth will have to await success on several of those fronts.

Highly publicized deals with big companies only add a few thousand jobs each, and overall will not do much to appreciably increase jobs creation above the 190,000 created in 2016. With unemployment remaining below 5 percent, getting a raise should be a bit easier for those already employed or looking to change jobs.

Finding a good paying position will remain toughest for the long-term unemployed whose skills atrophied during the Great Recession and slow recovery, and for whom government benefits — expanded Medicaid and food stamps for healthy men — have often overwhelmed incentives to re-skill.

Stock prices will continue strong: Whenever the Fed changes course investors react, and some turbulence in stock prices is inevitable. The recent Trump rally and rocky start of the Trump presidency makes some temporary adjustment even more likely. However, the outlook for profits growth remains robust and judged against historical standards, the market is not overvalued.

Considering how efficiently an economy built more and more on technology use capital, returns on investment and stocks are likely to rise.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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