The 0% Solution: Fed Strands Bank Savers, Retirees

NEW YORK ( BankingMyWay) -- Stock market investors, bankers and "gold bugs" may well be popping the bubbly after news the Federal Reserve will inject $40 billion a month into the mortgage market for the foreseeable future.

The Federal Reserve will also extend its low-interest rate policy into 2015.

The Fed confirmed the moves Thursday, and the stock market, especially financial stocks, and gold prices skyrocketed on the news.

Left out of the party once again are bank savers and U.S. retirees who live on fixed incomes, who once again lose out in the game of monetary musical chairs as low rates eat into their income -- just as they're paying more for critical commodities such as oil, gas, and groceries.

Here is how the Federal Reserve put it in its official release:

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee agreed today to increase policy accommodation by purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month. The Committee also will continue through the end of the year its program to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities as announced in June, and it is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. These actions, which together will increase the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities by about $85 billion each month through the end of the year, should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee also decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted at least through mid-2015.

In remarks after the announcement, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared to take on critics of the agency's low-interest policy and how it is perceived by bank savers to balance the economic burden on their backs.

"On the second concern, my colleagues and I are very much aware that holders of interest-bearing assets, such as certificates of deposit, are receiving very low returns," Bernanke said. "But low interest rates also support the value of many other assets that Americans own, such as homes and businesses large and small. Indeed, in general, healthy investment returns cannot be sustained in a weak economy, and of course it is difficult to save for retirement or other goals without the income from a job. Thus, while low interest rates do impose some costs, Americans will ultimately benefit most from the healthy and growing economy that low interest rates help promote."

In effect, Bernanke is telling bank savers and retirees that Federal Reserve policy is propping up the value of their homes, and that high bank-savings rates are an impediment to economic growth, and thus off the table in terms of policy.

In its official release, the Fed also noted that inflation shouldn't exceed 2%, thus further bolstering its case that low-rates won't harm the economy.

But bank savers and Americans living on fixed incomes can point to higher oil and gas prices and say "lifestyle" prices are rising, no matter what the Fed says. Crude oil is up over $99 per barrel today, while the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. stands at $3.87, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange and Fuel Gauge Report respectively.

In addition, food prices are off the charts, further crimping the budgets of savers and retirees. According to the IndexMundi Real Price Survey, the Commodity Price Index is up 13.35% -- well ahead of the rate of inflation.

Sure, low interest rates and a $40 billion-per-month cash infusion should help stabilize housing prices, and most bank savers and retirees do own homes. That could be a big net-plus for the U.S. economy.

But bank CEOs and stock market investors own homes, too, and they're not being asked to "take one for the team" as are savers and Americans living on a fixed-income.

In that regard, the playing field still seems tilted against middle-income Americans who count on the interest earned from certificates of deposits and money market accounts to help make it through the end of the month.

Like it or not, that's the reality bank savers face -- at least until 2015.

--By Brian O'Connell

More on the American economy:

One-in-four Americans say they are poor

Not meeting your money goals? Might be your fault

Motif investing: Can it save your retirement?

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