Is Data Dependency Dead At The Fed?

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

While it was certainly gratifying to know that the Federal Reserve may, finally, be ready to raise interest rates and normalize monetary policy before the end of the year, its reason for doing so, elucidated after last week’s FOMC meeting and Janet Yellen’s press conference left me shaking my head. To put it in economic terms, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, given the Fed’s past behavior.

As we all know by now, the Fed, as widely expected, left interest rates unchanged last week, but hinted strongly for the umpteenth time that it’s almost ready to raise rates, just not right now.

“The committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened but decided, for the time being, to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives,” the post-meeting announcement said.

Yet, at the same time, the Fed lowered its estimate for U.S. economic growth this year to 1.8% from its June forecast of 2.0%, which is also its new long-term view of the economy. That’s certainly justified by the reports we’ve been getting the last several weeks, which show the economy slowing, not gaining strength, in the second half.

So why would the Fed say that the case for raising rates had “strengthened” even as it downgraded its view of the economy and most recent reports back that up? Continue reading "Is Data Dependency Dead At The Fed?"

Needed: More Transparency at the Fed

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve is starting to feel some heat from both the right and the left about how secret its activities deserve to be from American taxpayers. The fact that next year is a presidential election year and the heat is being brought by two candidates for the Oval Office may mean that the pressure may amount to something this time.

On January 28 Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, reintroduced his "Audit the Fed" bill that would subject the Fed's monetary policy discussions and decisions to audits by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"This secretive government-run bureaucracy promotes policies that have impacted the lives of all Americans," Paul said. "Citizens have the right to know why the Fed's policies have resulted in a stagnant economy and record numbers of people dropping out of the workforce."

Previous versions of Paul's bill – originally sponsored by his father, former presidential hopeful Ron Paul, and others – have gotten nowhere, largely because Democrats controlled the Senate. Now, of course, that body is now controlled by the Republicans. Paul got 30 co-sponsors to his bill. Continue reading "Needed: More Transparency at the Fed"

Joel Horneck And Fed Policy

George Yacik - Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates

Remember that classic episode from the very first season of Seinfeld, when Jerry wants to "break up" with his obnoxious friend, Joel Horneck, but just can't bring himself to do it? Jerry can't stand the guy, but the thought of actually telling Joel he doesn't want to see him anymore is just so painful that even after he gets up enough nerve and delivers the blow over lunch at the diner – after which Joel, not unexpectedly, starts to blubber and carry on in public – Jerry immediately backs off and apologizes, further prolonging his agony.

I thought of that episode (I usually think in terms of old sitcom episodes, much to my wife's annoyance) after I read the Federal Reserve's policy statement on Wednesday. It once again chose to kick the can down the road (I really hate that metaphor, but it does apply here) and put off raising interest rates until sometime into the unknown future. Apparently the Fed just can't bear the thought of having the financial markets pull a Joel Horneck on it.

Not only did the Fed not remove the "considerable time" language from its statement, as many market participants were expecting. Instead, it added a brand new noncommittal phrase, saying that "it can be patient" before it begins to "normalize the stance of monetary policy," i.e., raise interest rates from its current zero to 0.25% target range.

Of course, both being "patient" and "considerable time" can mean anything, or nothing, at all. What they absolutely don't mean is "right now" or "very soon." At her news conference following the statement, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said a rate increase won't take place for "at least the next couple of meetings," meaning well into next year, and maybe not even then. Who knows?

Perhaps Mrs. Yellen and the six of her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee who voted for the statement (there were an unusually high three members who didn't go along) thought they were being cute in adding another set of evasive, ambiguous words that show that it still can't make up its collective mind.

Is the Fed simply indecisive? Incompetent? Or simply afraid of what the market reaction might be if it stops prolonging a policy that is no longer necessary? Continue reading "Joel Horneck And Fed Policy"

Yellen's Wand Is Running Low on Magic

By Doug French, Contributing Editor

How important is housing to the American economy?

If a 2011 SMU paper entitled "Housing's Contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)" is right, nothing moves the economic needle like housing. It accounts for 17% to 18% of GDP.

And don't forget that home buyers fill their homes with all manner of stuff—and that homeowners have more skin in insurance on what's likely to be their family's most important asset.

All claims to the contrary, the disappointing first-quarter housing numbers expose the Federal Reserve as impotent at influencing GDP's most important component.

The Fed: Housing's Best Friend

No wonder every modern Fed chairman has lowered rates to try to crank up housing activity, rationalizing that low rates make mortgage payments more affordable. Back when he was chair, Ben Bernanke wrote in the Washington Post, "Easier financial conditions will promote economic growth. For example, lower mortgage rates will make housing more affordable and allow more homeowners to refinance."

In her first public speech, new Fed Chair Janet Yellen said one of the benefits to keeping interest rates low is to "make homes more affordable and revive the housing market." Continue reading "Yellen's Wand Is Running Low on Magic"

Is The Yield Curve Really Flattening?

There is a lot of talk now about a flattening of the yield curve.  This talk has been among the most intense right here at the website you are reading at this moment.  A flattening curve is commonly viewed as bad for gold, and according to Mark Hulbert, is an indicator of a coming recession.

But is the curve really flattening or is this all hype based on Janet Yellen's press conference comments?  Here is a chart the likes of which we have been using in NFTRH for many months now, the 30 year vs. the 5 year yield.


Here we should lend some perspective.  Okay Beuller, I ask you what is different this time from the last flattening? Continue reading "Is The Yield Curve Really Flattening?"