The "Do Nothing" Fed Does It Again

George Yacik - INO.com 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 - INO.com 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 - INO.com 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?"

What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


The battle lines are being drawn for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting this week. The prevailing market consensus right now is that no resolution of the debate – which mainly concerns inflation – will happen at the meeting, meaning there will be no change in interest rates, and may not be before the end of this year.

One side of the issue, which seems to be the prevailing view at the central bank, was recently promulgated by Fed governor Lael Brainard at a meeting of the Economic Club of New York. “My own view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target,” she said. “We have been falling short of our inflation objective not just in the past year, but over a longer period as well. What is troubling is five straight years in which inflation fell short of our target despite a sharp improvement in resource utilization.”

The other side, which appears to be the minority opinion, is represented by William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed, who isn’t overly concerned about the current level of inflation. “Even though inflation is currently somewhat below our longer-run objective, I judge that it is still appropriate” to raise interest rates soon, he said recently. “I expect that we will continue to gradually remove monetary policy accommodation.” Continue reading "What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?"

Has Yellen Become A Dove Again?

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


Janet Yellen’s equivocal remarks at last week’s semi-annual Congressional testimony certainly might make you believe that a rate hike at the Federal Reserve’s July 25-26 meeting is hardly a sure thing. Indeed, the odds of that happening are a lot less than 50-50. A lot less.

In her testimony, Yellen remained confident in her previous declarations that inflation would gradually rise to the Fed’s 2% target. “It’s premature to reach the judgment that we’re not on the path to 2% inflation over the next couple of years,” she said. But then she quickly hedged her bets. “We’re watching this very closely and stand ready to adjust our policy if it appears that the inflation undershoot will be persistent,” she said.

Based on the past several months’ worth of inflation statistics, one would have a tough time arguing that lower-than-expected inflation hasn’t become “persistent.” Last month’s consumer price index was unchanged from May and up only 1.6% versus a year earlier, the fourth straight decline by that measurement. That followed May’s personal-consumption expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, which fell 0.1%. The core index, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.1%, but just 1.4% on a year-to-year basis, well below the Fed’s target rate and lower than at the beginning of the year. Continue reading "Has Yellen Become A Dove Again?"