Let’s get real about interest rates

Yes, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised the key federal funds rate (by 0.25 percent).

Yes, it’s the second rate hike since last December.

However, the federal funds rate still is below 1 percent after hovering near zero since late 2008. And while higher rates will affect consumer loans such as student loans, car loans and home mortgages, the Fed repeatedly has said that future increases will be “gradual.”

The Fed “sees the potential for a modest uptick in prices and activity over the next 12-24 months,” Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income, said in a statement. “But in the long-run, the Fed’s forecast for a moderate (read: blah) trajectory of the economy remains.”

Much of what I wrote in this article for The Dallas Morning News a year ago on how higher rates might affect consumers still holds true today.

Interest rates generally are still low.

Look at the 30-year mortgage rate. It peaked at 18.5 percent in October 1981. Today, it’s 4.16 percent vs. just under 4 percent a year ago.

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Will the latest Beige Book put pressure on the Fed to act next month?

The U.S. economy continued to grow — albeit at a moderate or modest pace — across most regions of the country from early October through mid-November, according to data released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve.

The latest Beige Book report combined with other strong economic data could pressure Fed leaders to raise interest rates, which have been near zero since 2008, when they meet in two weeks. Some Fed leaders are growing increasingly impatient: Two bankers dissented at the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Nov. 1-2 because they wanted to raise the federal funds rate by 0.25 percent.

The Beige Book is based on economic, employment, wage and price reports from 12 Federal Reserve banks nationwide. The San Francisco district, which covers seven western states plus Alaska and Hawaii, reported moderate economic growth. Inflation remained at bay, with slight upward price pressure in most areas.

Here’s some key economic data for the nation and the San Francisco district:

Real estate and construction: U.S. residential real estate activity improved across most districts, including San Francisco, with more single-family construction and higher home prices. The real estate market was particularly strong in the Intermountain West. Commercial construction increased in seven districts, including San Francisco, but shortages of labor and materials dampened growth in some parts of the western district.

Continue reading Will the latest Beige Book put pressure on the Fed to act next month?