federal reserve

The Week in Public Finance: What the Rate Hike Means, a Legal Win for Online Sales Taxes and More

A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
BY  DECEMBER 16, 2016

Movin' On Up

The Federal Reserve announced a short-term interest rate hike on Wednesday, the first one in a year and a move that was largely expected. But what wasn’t on the radar was the Fed's announcement that it plans to raise rates three more times in 2017, up from previous expectations of two rate hikes.

Given the reticence to move rates for most of the last decade, the faster pace for next year has municipal analyst Chris Mauro calling the decision a “rather splashy hawkish surprise.”

The rate hike will move the target interest rate on short-term debt up one-quarter of a percent -- to a range of 0.5 to 0.75 percent. The Fed's previous rate hike was a year ago, and that was the first one in nine years.

The Takeaway: The Fed's plan to raise rates signals that economic growth is accelerating.

Municipal Bond Market Faces New Pressure

A new federal rule could make it more expensive for governments to issue debt in a financial crisis.
BY  APRIL 5, 2016

Selling government bonds could become more difficult during the next credit crunch, thanks to a new federal rule outlining the kind of liquid assets that banks must hold in case of an emergency.

The rule, issued Friday, greatly limits the kinds of municipal bonds that qualify in a big bank’s investment portfolio as "highly liquid" -- in other words, assets that can be sold quickly for cash. The new regulation was issued by the U.S. Federal Reserve, and is a modification of its previous proposal with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

There's no immediate negative effect for government issuers. But if and when the next credit crunch hits, it could become more expensive for states and localities to issue debt. That's because if fewer bonds qualify as highly liquid, there would be less market demand for them. And lower demand would mean higher interest rates for governments.

“As long as munis continue to have a good risk-adjusted return for banks, they’ll continue to invest," said Chris Mauro, who leads RBC Capital Markets’ municipal strategy team. “It’s really when you’re entering a liquidity crisis and banks are running up against their limit: Unfortunately they may liquidate some of their municipal [bonds] as a result. And they’ll use those proceeds to buy highly liquid assets.”