US banks face squeeze

By Colin Twiggs
June 4th, 2012 2:00 a.m. ET (6:00 p.m. AET)

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Rising short-term interest rates (represented by 3-month Treasury yields on the chart below) caused negative yield differentials in 2006/2007 which led me to warn of an economic down-turn. Yield differentials are calculated by subtracting short-term (3-month) yields from long-term (10-year) yields. Banks borrow mostly at short-term rates and lend at long-term rates, generating a profitable interest margin. But when the yield differential turns negative, bank interest margins are squeezed, forcing them to contract lending. A lending contraction shrinks aggregate demand (Consumption + Investment) and sends the economy into a tail-spin.

10-Year and 3-Month Treasury Yield Differential

Negative yield differentials (or yield curves) are normally caused by rising short-term rates as in 2006/2007, but now we are witnessing the opposite phenomenon. Short-term rates are near zero, but falling long-term rates are starting to squeeze the yield differential from the opposite end. The situation is not yet desperate but a further decline in long-term yields would shrink bank interest margins. Fed initiation of QE3, purchasing additional long-term Treasuries, is likely to drive long-term rates lower and exacerbate the problem. The resulting contraction in bank lending would cause another economic down-turn.

The trite saying that honesty is the best policy has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.

~ Confederate General Robert E. Lee