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Investing At “Record” Low Rates…

February 10, 2012

The Fed’s first 3-year “forecast” revealed that almost half of the Fed Governors believe the Fed will keep short-term rates very low through 2014.  Coupled with continued weak loan demand, many credit unions feel like they are forced to do more with investments.  These two factors may cause more credit unions to extend investments moving forward into 2014.  Here are a couple of things to consider:

  1. Ask yourself, does that make sense? Regardless of what your broker tells you, it is always a good idea to apply the “reasonableness test” to any new investments that your credit union is evaluating.  Honest mistakes can be made.  A recent example is a broker showing a credit union a 13% market devaluation in a +300 basis point (bp) rate change on a 15-year final maturity callable.  The mistake was made because the market value model that was used showed the callable being called at the 5-year point, even in a 300bp rate increase.  In reality, a 15-year final maturity callable should devalue by roughly 30% in a 300bp rate change.  Callables will NOT get called if rates rise.   Make sure your credit union is evaluating the risk to final maturity if you consider investments with optionality, like callables, or mortgage-related products.  Buying long maturity callables with the expectation that they will be called can be a risky strategy
  2. How does this fit within policy? All investment decisions of relevance should be examined from an overall risk perspective, to ensure the new purchases still fit within policy limits.  Not just investment concentration limits, but overall aggregate risk policy limits (calculating impact on overall financial results)

There are many other areas that could be considered, such as overall credit union strategy and how new investments fit within this strategy.  Is the credit union positioned for long-term success if rates stay low and loan demand remains weak?  Lengthening investments can provide some revenue relief in the short-term, but will not provide relief from the long-term structural and operational challenges that many institutions are facing in this environment.

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