This week, after an emergency call with central bank leaders around the world, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. A somewhat surprising move coming about two weeks before its next scheduled meeting. It was the first emergency rate cut by the Fed since the financial crisis in 2008 and a strong signal that the central bank is taking the threat of the virus seriously.
The problem is that cutting interest rates, which were already very low, isn’t likely to do much to solve the kinds of economic problems posed by a pandemic.
Think of it like this: if more people get sick, more people can’t work. Businesses become less productive and ailing workers without paid sick leave don’t earn money. (They might also go to work sick.) Meanwhile, others who are either sick or afraid of catching the virus stop going out and spending money.
Restaurants, movie theaters, hotels and airlines have already experienced less revenue. More workers will lose their jobs temporary, so fewer people will have money to spend. Its classic cause of an economic downturn since the U.S. economy depends on consumers’ spending money.
Crucially, all the people out of work will still need money for food and housing costs. The new record-low mortgage rates aren’t going to solve that immediate problem, especially not for renters. Nearly 4 in 10 adults would have trouble handling a $400 emergency expense, according to a recent study from the Federal Reserve.
An economic downturn is coming, the problem is no one knows how severe it will be and how long will it last. China’s economy took a big hit and government took some draconian measures that can’t be done here in North America.
Some precautionary financial steps
- Top up your emergency fund
- Living pay check to paycheck: then get a line of credit or increase the limits on your credit cards
- Start looking for day care services in case of school closures
- Don’t put any new money into the stock market until the coronavirus is contained. (Too early to buy the dips, however make an investment shopping list)
- Get ready to refinance your debt, but keep in mind that there could be more rate cuts.
Why you shouldn’t panic over a decline in stock market prices
The chart below illustrate what happen to stock market values during the financial crisis. (Jan 2008 until Mar 2011) The left side of the graph shows the market hit bottom in Mar of 2009 and recovered most of it losses by Mar of 2011. I not suggesting that this current market downturn will get that bad.
Keep in mind that the stock market has gone straight up since the market hit bottom back in march of 2009 with a few little blips. The chart below illustrates that the current downturn could be just another blip. This virus will only have a temporary effect on the economy and consumer spending will recover. People will travel again, visit theme parks, eat out and business will be profitable again.
Back in September, I wrote a post to reduce some of your risk and move some money into dividend paying stocks. I hope that you followed my advice. Dividend income should help to offset some of the fall in value of your portfolio.