by Brandon Reiter
Over the past few years, we have experienced a period of high inflation, leading to a rise in interest rates. Although it my sound complicated, having a basic understanding of how they relate to you and your business can help you make more informative decisions, when it comes to borrowing, hiring, spending, expanding, and much more.
The most common challenge small business owners face is the cost and quality of labor, which are directly impacted by inflation. After the pandemic, the labor market began to tighten, meaning that the number of available jobs increased more rapidly than the amount of available workers. When this happens, workers are able to demand higher wages because there is little competition for job openings.
Imagine you are a business owner needing to hire someone. When interest rates are low and the labor market is tight, you may start looking for a candidate and find that there are not many applicants to choose from. Let’s say you finally find someone with just enough qualifications, however, they are demanding a wage of $22/hour which is more than you have offered for a similar position in the past. Due to the lack of applicants, you decide to make the hire anyway. In order to pay your new employee, you go and borrow money from the bank until your sales are able to catch up with the new cost. The bank offers you a loan and charges a 3% interest rate. Now that you have an employee with a higher wage and a loan to pay back, you decide to raise your prices a bit. Inflation.
In order to combat inflation, the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. By doing so, they are essentially trying to slow down the economy by discouraging borrowing, and loosening the labor market, which would lead to a slow down in rising prices.
Let’s go back to your business. A year goes by and you want to hire more employees to keep expanding your business. The labor market has only gotten tighter, but the Fed has begun to raise interest rates. The new candidates are demanding a wage of $25/hour, so you go back to your bank and ask for a bigger loan. But now the bank is charging an 8% interest rate. You figure that it would be too costly between the higher wages and the interest, so you decide to hold off until the interest rates go back down.
Instead of borrowing more money, hiring more people, and selling more product, you are choosing to wait, which is what the Fed’s goal is when they decided to raise interest rates. Other business owner’s facing the same predicament as you also choose to hold off on borrowing and hiring. As less businesses create job openings, the labor market begins to loosen. With fewer openings, more people become unemployed for longer; the competition in the labor market increases.
The person you hired for $22/hour is not panning out, so you decide to replace them. You’re pleased to find that there are plenty of eager applicants and they are only demanding $19/hour. Since your labor cost just got lower, you want to gain an edge on your competition so you decide lower your prices back down. More and more businesses like yours cut their labor costs and lower their prices, while the interest rates are high. Inflation defeated.
Eventually the Fed is happy with the decrease in prices, and can gradually begin to lower their rates. Allowing you to reconsider borrowing money, hiring more people, and selling more product.
Back to reality. Interest rates are still high and the Fed is debating whether or not to raise them even more, as the labor market is still tight. However, It is likely that they will begin to lower them at some point next year.
As you navigate your business over the next couple of years, you’ll want to keep all of this in mind. By understanding economic factors like interest rates, and inflation, make better decisions for your business. It is important to pay attention to what the Fed is planning to do with interest rates in the near future, as you will understand how this will affect your cost of borrowing and labor. If you are planning to borrow money, you may want to consider whether or not you can hold off until interest rates ease up.