The "Do Nothing" Fed Does It Again

George Yacik - Contributor - federal funds rate remains unchanged

I suppose it would have been out of character or asking too much to expect Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve, at her last meeting as Fed chair, to act decisively and do something that needed to be done. Instead, playing to form, The Fed elected not to raise the federal funds rate at its January monetary policy meeting. Now we will have to wait another two months, March 20-21, the Fed’s next meeting, for the central bank to get back to normalizing interest rates.

For most of the past four years, the Yellen-led Fed has preferred to sit on its hands and let asset bubbles get bigger and bigger and leave interest rates pretty much alone, even in the face of a burgeoning economy. Instead, it has let its obsession with inflation – it’s too low, in their view, not too high – dictate monetary policy, whether that fixation has a basis in fact or not.

Since the beginning of last September, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has soared about 75 basis points, from just over 2.00% to more than 2.75% at its most recent peak, putting it at its highest level in nearly four years. The yield on the two-year note, which is more susceptible to changes in short-term interest rate changes, is up about 90 bps in that time, to about 2.15%. Continue reading "The "Do Nothing" Fed Does It Again"

Farewell Janet, Welcome Jay

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

After four years as Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen makes her swansong at this week’s monetary policy meeting (no disrespect to Ms. Yellen, but it seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it?), at which time she will likely welcome her successor, Jerome Powell, who was finally confirmed by the Senate. Her term officially ends on February 3, at which time she has said she would also step down from the Fed’s Board of Governors, where she was entitled to remain for another six years.

While most observers believe Powell won’t deviate too far from the dovish, don’t-rock-the-boat policies of his predecessor, I think he’s likely to be a little more hawkish in raising interest rates, if for no other reason than to skim some of the froth from the stock market. Another quarter-point increase in the federal funds rate at next week’s meeting would be a good signal about what to expect from the Powell Fed going forward.

I’m still not entirely sold that inflation won’t at some point in the future rear its ugly head once again, mandating a more aggressive interest rate-raising policy, but the bond market – based on still relatively low long-term Treasury bond rates – apparently has yet to be convinced. Still, inflation, whether just boiling under the surface or several years down the road, isn’t the only reason the Fed needs to be more hawkish. Taking some air out of asset bubbles – whether they be in old-fashioned equities or yet-to-be-tested cybercurrencies – that has primarily been the result of the Fed’s overly accommodative monetary policies is a good enough reason to do so. Continue reading "Farewell Janet, Welcome Jay"

Is Janet Coming Back?

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

A lot of names have been thrown around to be the next head of the Federal Reserve. But who is the most likely person President Trump will name?

The current occupant, Janet Yellen, has to be considered the front-runner, although that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be renominated. Indeed, I would put the odds of her being reappointed at less than 50-50 – a lot less.

She does have several things going for her. First and foremost, she’s a known quantity. The markets would certainly be happy if Yellen were reappointed, if for no other reason than that they’ll know what they’re getting. With the major stock indexes all at or near all-time highs, and the bull market already nine years old, the market doesn’t want anything untoward to upset the status quo.

But as we should know well by now, stability isn’t exactly Trump’s comfort zone. Two weeks ago, he had no problem telling investors in billions of Puerto Rican bonds that they could pound sand, which caused a major meltdown in the price of those bonds (administration officials subsequently walked back his remarks).

Would he risk something like that happening to the entire bond and stock markets by not reappointing Yellen? (Even if she doesn’t get reappointed as Fed chair, Yellen’s term as a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors doesn’t end until January 2024, although it’s expected that she’ll resign if she’s not renamed as chair).

Besides the stability factor, the main reason why the markets like Yellen, of course, is because, in the words of Mr. Trump himself on the campaign trail in May 2016, “She is a low-interest rate person, she’s always been a low-interest rate person, and let’s be honest, I’m a low-interest rate person.” He reiterated those feelings in July in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which he added, “I think she’s done a good job.” Continue reading "Is Janet Coming Back?"

Fed Can't Backtrack On Regulatory Reforms

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

I’ve been pretty harsh in this column on Federal Reserve monetary policy, but the one area that I haven’t written much about– financial regulation – is probably the main area where the Fed does deserve a lot of credit.

In her speech at the Jackson Hole symposium late last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen probably disappointed a lot of market watchers for her failure to talk about interest rates or unwinding the Fed’s balance sheet. Instead, she spent most of her speech defending the Fed’s actions in the regulatory realm in the wake of the global financial crisis and pushed back against critics who want to roll back those regulations, including President Trump, who vowed that he wants to “do a big number” on Dodd-Frank.

If Yellen wants to be reappointed to her position by Trump when it ends in February, she certainly didn’t sound like it. Then again, making comments in opposition to Trump is hardly a heroic stance.

Still, she deserves credit for defending the Fed’s position on bank regulation, and the next Fed chair, whether it’s Yellen, Gary Cohn, or someone else, should stick with the current policy, which will go a long way toward keeping our banking system safe and secure and make sure that the global financial crisis doesn’t repeat itself. After all, if you can’t trust keeping your money in a bank, nothing else matters. Continue reading "Fed Can't Backtrack On Regulatory Reforms"

Will There Be A November Surprise?

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

In its most recent Beige Book, covering late August through early October, released last week, the Federal Reserve noted that although economic “outlooks are positive, contacts in several sectors cite the upcoming presidential election as a source of near-term uncertainty, delaying some business decisions.”

The same could be said for the Fed itself. How much uncertainty has it created and business decisions has it delayed by its endless dawdling and indecisiveness on whether or not to raise interest rates? No matter who wins the vote, the election will end – maybe not on November 8, if it can be shown that someone did, in fact, rig the voting – but eventually, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will become president. But we have no such certitude that the Fed won’t continue to tease the markets about when it will start normalizing monetary policy. Continue reading "Will There Be A November Surprise?"