Quantitative easing. Low interest rate environment. Easy money. Kick the can down the road. We have all heard those phrases in recent years as the government continues its grand economic experiment in an effort to stimulate the economy.
While the intention was to stimulate, I would argue that this continued easing has served as more of an “economic morphine” used to dull the pain of a slow-growth economic recovery desperately in need of surgery to repair years of unwise spending and unprecedented debt levels. This morphine has falsely propped up equity markets, pushed more risk into the system and created a lending environment where banks are throwing caution to the wind to create business. Though for many it feels like things are going well. That’s the morphine at work.
I recently talked with Reuters‡ on the surge in commercial and industrial lending and the potential economic fallout. In the article, I emphasized the risks that some banks are taking as liquidity grows and the pressure and competition to make loans intensifies. With interest rates held historically low and liquidity high, many banks are willing to make riskier loans with little-to-no collateral, lax or reduced terms and collateral packages.
All this lending hasn’t led to economic expansion, but rather refinancing. The credit is simply moving from bank to bank. For those not refinancing existing debt, many are using these loans to replace equipment with near zero cost money.
At UMB, we continue to lend and believe in the strength of the private sector and the good of capitalism. We will continue to be prudent in our lending practices and maintain the necessary terms and standards for responsible lending. As a nation, we can no longer accept the morphine and avoid the reality of our economic situation. The time has come for surgery. This surely will be a painful process as rates normalize and necessary spending cuts are made. However, this is what is needed to ensure the long-term health of our economy and country.
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Mr. Kemper is the chairman and chief executive officer of UMB Financial Corporation and UMB Bank, n.a. He joined UMB in 1997. Mr. Kemper is active in both civic and philanthropic endeavors. One of the causes he is most passionate about is the arts. He currently serves as a trustee and executive committee member for the Denver Art Museum and is a past board member for The Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City.
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