“The implied policy rate path of the Quarterly Projection Model indicates an increase of 25 basis points in the fourth quarter of 2021 and further increases in each quarter of 2022, 2023, and 2024.” (Lesetja Kganyago, SARB Governor)
After cutting interest rates by 275 basis points to record lows in response to the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 lockdowns, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) recently announced the first interest rate hike in three years. The vote was split 3-2, indicating conflicting sentiments within SARB as it looks to address inflation fears while supporting recovery.
At its November 2021 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting, the SARB hiked its main repo rate from a record low of 3.50% by 25 basis points to 3.75%, citing growing concerns about upside inflation risks.
The repo rate hike came earlier than many economists had expected, and certainly earlier than consumers and businesses had anticipated.
It also signals a turn in the interest rate cycle, with further increases forecast by SARB for each quarter over the next three years. While such a normalization in rates is to be expected, its early arrival and likely extent surprised many.
Some economists estimate hikes of 150 basis points over the next two years, with others expecting around 250 basis points within the next 18 months! It is generally expected that increases will continue until pre-pandemic levels are reached at around 6.5%.
Of course, when interest rates are changed, it has a ripple effect throughout the broader economy. This is because low rates make it more affordable to borrow money, which encourages consumer and business spending and investment and can also boost asset prices. Rising interest rates have the opposite effect.
It is important for business owners to understand how interest rate increases can affect and influence how their companies operate and perform, because of course businesses generally depend on a healthy economic environment to thrive.
Smaller businesses in particular feel the effects of changing interest rates more keenly because they have lower cash reserves and are generally more vulnerable to economic shocks.
However, if you understand the impact of interest rates on your business, you can adjust to interest rate changes to protect yourself from negative effects.
Let’s start off then by analyzing the possible impact of higher interest rates on your business.
What might the impact be on your business?
When interest rates are low, consumers tend to borrow more money, and also to spend more on products and services, because they have more disposable income.
As interest rates rise, consumers with debts ranging from home loans to vehicle finance to credit cards and personal loans will pay more interest to all those creditors. In South Africa, where the debt repayment to income ratio is as high as 66.7% (2021: Q2) when interest rates are at historic lows, interest rate increases can be problematic.
An increase in interest rates typically impacts consumer spending habits negatively, because with their debt costs increasing across their credit lines, they have less disposable income to spend on products and services.
The impact of a change in interest rates on customers varies from business to business. In a rising rate environment, consumer-driven businesses often see a reduction in sales. Companies that make luxury goods are hit hardest when interest rates rise because most customers first cut back on non-essentials when their disposable income decreases.
The impact on your cash flow
This impact on consumer spending and the resultant reduction in sales is likely to affect cash flow in businesses across the board as their customers simply have less to spend.
In addition, just like consumers, nearly every business has outstanding loans, and when interest rates rise, those loans also become more expensive – both immediately and over the longer term.
Typically, these loans are longer-term debts that will take years to pay off, so any increase in the interest rate on those loans means carrying the debt for longer and paying far more.
Higher credit costs will also impact a company’s cash flow, compounding the effect of reduced consumer spending.
What about your access to credit?
Higher interest rates make it more difficult – and more expensive – to take out new loans to cover unexpected expenses or to fund the expansion of a business.
Higher loan repayments on existing debt will also reduce business profitability, which can make securing new loans even more difficult.
This can curtail the growth of a company for months or even years.
The impact on your business planning
Reduced sales, constrained cash flow, and the cost and difficulty of obtaining credit caused by rising interest rates must impact your business planning.
Of course, with changing interest rates it is more difficult to ascertain the cost of future borrowing and the cost of existing business loans on a variable rate, which makes it harder to plan your company’s finances. Nevertheless, the expertise of a professional can assist in adjusting your business planning.
In addition, projects which were viable during low-interest rate periods may no longer be viable due to the cost of – and constrained access to – loans, as well as reduced cash flow and consumer demand. Companies might decide not to start new projects or expansions during periods as interest rates rise, which hampers business growth.
Consider the impact on your customers and how your business can offer more value for money as their disposal incomes tighten.
It is important to factor in the effect of interest rate increases on budgets and cashflow, both immediately and over the next three years.
Review your business loans and other borrowings to ascertain affordability as interest rates increase using a business loan rate calculator.
Consider refinancing some of the business loans while interest rates are still low to help stabilize the debt load.
Consider locking in the lower interest rates now to ensure loans will cost less as the interest rates increase over the next three years.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.