High Interest Rate Effects

Most of my mornings are spent reading voluminous research reports on the stock market and all aspects of the economy. As a “think tank,” our office has an insatiable appetite for good research that we can analyze and from which we can make our own judgments.

I was very surprised to see a research report from CIBC World Markets come across my desk the other day. I was surprised because I did not expect to see such strong words from such a large, conservative bank. As I read the report, I felt this was something I needed to share with my readers.

Many of the large banks today, like CIBC, have substantial research departments not only for the needs of its customers, but for the bank’s own strategic planning needs.

Here’s the zest of what the report, prepared by CIBC economists Benjamin Tal and Avery Shenfeld, said:

— Low interest rates have resulted in a U.S. consumer who is “leveraged to the hilt.”

— About 18% of an average U.S. family’s monthly income is now used to pay for that family’s accumulated debt.

— 50% of new mortgages are adjustable rate mortgages.

— Just a small increase in U.S. interest rates could result in “substantial vulnerability” for U.S. consumers.

— “The surprise will be how little it takes from the Fed in that context to achieve any desired cooling in the economy.”

Strong words from a conservative financial institution, but true words nonetheless.

Tal and Shenfeld are concluding what I have been saying for months now-U.S. consumers have taken on far too much debt.

Higher interest rates will reduce their appetite for high-ticket items, especially autos and real estate — I can see this openly in the stock price charts of the largest U.S. home builders and car makers. These charts don’t lie.