The Federal Reserve has for the past few years maintained a low interest rate policy in order to make credit easier to obtain and growth easier to come by. But PIMCO’s Bill Gross says that policy — and the Fed’s announcement that it will continue it for the next two years — may be having the opposite effects.
“Pilot [Ben] Bernanke has changed planes from a fixed wing to a rotor-based helicopter by ‘conditionally’ freezing policy rates for at least the next two years,” Gross writes of the Fed chief in a recent Financial Times piece. “As such the front end of the curve has for all intents and purposes become inert and worst of all flat as opposed to steeply positive. Two-year yields are the same as overnight fund rates allowing for no incremental gain — a return that leveraged banks and lending institutions have based their income and expense budgets on. A bank can no longer borrow short and lend two years longer at a profit.”
Extending the maturity of loans longer could help for those institutions, but Gross says that regulators either forbid or discourage maturity extensions. Investment companies like PIMCO are also impacted, Gross says, because many of them have their own rules that prevent such extensions. “The net result, for both banks and investment firms is to reduce financial system leverage,” Gross says. “This should be positive on a long-term basis, but negative in the near-term as credit is in effect destroyed as opposed to created. … Helicopter Ben should be careful — another Blackhawk Down might be in our near-term future.”