Understanding Interest Rates & the Economy

Keystone Financial Group |

The Federal Reserve has been in the headlines a lot lately as analysts try to figure out when policymakers will cut interest rates. In this post, we'll discuss how interest rates affect the economy, and what today's interest rates mean for consumers and the market at large.

Why does the Fed matter so much?

The Fed’s decisions on interest rates are a big deal for markets and the economy because they affect how much it costs to borrow money.

Since businesses and consumers depend on credit to buy houses, fund business growth, pay workers, and more, interest rate policy decisions ripple across the economy.

Higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money and can act as a brake on economic growth.

On the flip side, higher interest rates can be a boon for investors by increasing the yield on savings accounts, bonds, and other debt instruments.

If you’ve found yourself putting off a new mortgage until rates come down or hunting down the best yield on a savings account, you’re experiencing the Fed’s actions in play.

How does the Fed change interest rates?

At a high level, the Fed sets the “target” for the Federal Funds Rate, which is the rate banks and large institutions charge each other.1

Right now, that target is set at 5.25%—5.5%, and the actual "effective" rate is about 5.3%.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to rates that low.

The rates we can get as consumers, investors, and businesses are set above that lowest rate.

Here's how that looks in practice.

Line graph titled "Impact of Fed Decisions on Interest Rates", dated from January 2019 to January 2024.

The rates offered on the market to borrowers and investors are based on factors like risk profile, collateral, and loan length.

You can see in the chart that 30-year mortgage rates are much higher than the base rate, in part because of the length of the loan.

How does the Fed influence the stock market?

You might have noticed how much stock prices can swing when fresh headlines about the Fed's decisions emerge.

That’s because, all things being equal, lower interest rates are considered better for company performance because they incentivize borrowing and help fuel growth.

When interest rates rise, companies must pay higher rates to access credit, which can hurt their future prospects (and stock price).

Since the stock market tends to be forward-looking, the prospect of lower rates can flip the “greed” switch and trigger a rally as investors bet on future company performance.

That’s what we’ve been seeing in the past few weeks.

When will the Fed lower rates?

That is the $64,000 question. No one knows exactly.

The Fed is choosing to move carefully and assess the data.

While we’ve made serious progress in taming inflation, there’s still a ways to go before reaching the Fed’s target of 2% inflation.2

Line graph titled "Inflation is Down But Has Farther to Go to Reach 2%", with inflation rates from January 2020 to January 2024.

While many investors and economists hope the Fed will start cutting rates this spring and keep to their plan for multiple rate cuts this year, others aren’t convinced.3

Some analysts don’t think the Fed will be in a position to cut rates until next year.4

What does all this mean for investors?

It's likely that the markets will stay volatile as long as interest rates remain uncertain, especially approaching Fed announcement dates.

On the other hand, signs of lower inflation or other data that would support a cut are likely to be greeted with further rallying.

We will have to wait and see how things play out, but if you have questions or concerns on your plan and the current economic conditions, please feel free to reach out to our office to set up a time to chat.



1. https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/reference-rates/effr

2. https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/us-inflation-data-january-made-feds-job-harder-barkin-says-2024-02-21

3. https://www.cnbc.com/select/when-will-interest-rates-drop/

4. https://www.businessinsider.com/fed-first-rate-cut-forecast-us-economy-high-interest-impact-2024-2

Chart sources:








Article adapted from Snappy Kraken and used with permission. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for the purchase of any financial product. The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author and are subject to change at any time. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, presenting financial professional makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. This material has been prepared for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax or investment advice.