Judy Shelton And The Fed

I come not to praise Judy Shelton, nor to bury her. But the blanket media and political condemnation of her as President Trump’s latest (I forget which number we’re up to) nominee for the Federal Reserve Board strikes me as having nothing to do with her actual qualifications for the job but rather a reflection on her sponsor and her failure to be “the right kind of people,” meaning someone who doesn’t subscribe to the establishment groupthink.

During the several days prior to her confirmation hearings before the Senate Banking Committee last week, and back when she was first nominated, there was a flurry of scare headlines and stories about her unfitness for the position. No less than the sanctity of the independence of the Fed and the security of the U.S. economy was in jeopardy if she was confirmed. Here’s a small sample:

  • New York Times: “As Congress Prepares to Vet Judy Shelton, Worries About the Fed’s Future Mount”
  • Washington Post: “Republicans Must Protect the Fed From A Flagrantly Unqualified Nominee”
  • Bloomberg: “Judy Shelton Would Destroy Trump’s Pro-Worker Legacy” (as if Bloomberg would acknowledge any Trump accomplishment)
  • CNN: “Trump’s Fed Pick Isn’t Just a Gold Bug – She’s Also a Crypto Bull”

The Post also provided 10 of what it says are her “most controversial quotes.”

Controversial quote number 1 was this: “I don’t see any reference to independence in the legislation that has defined the role of the Federal Reserve for the United States. It would be in keeping with its historical mandate if the Fed were to pursue a more coordinated relationship with both Congress and the president.”

Indeed, how independent can the Fed be when its members are appointed by the President and ratified by the Senate? And it funds itself by buying massive amounts of government securities. Not to mention that Congressional mandate thing. Is it unreasonable to expect an agency that has a Congressional mandate might actually have to report to Congress every so often to make sure it’s adhering to that mandate? Continue reading "Judy Shelton And The Fed"

"We Will Use Those Tools..."

Yesterday from Fed Chairman Powell…

Powell says Fed will aggressively use QE to fight next recession

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday the central bank would fight the next economic downturn by buying large amounts of government debt to drive down long-term interest rates, a strategy that has been dubbed quantitative easing, or QE.

Of course, they will. The fix is always in, isn’t it? Wouldn’t want to let a system and associated economy so far out on a brittle limb weighed down by exponential debt leverage go it on its own, now would we? Wouldn’t want anything like a naturally functioning economy because until an utter and complete crash and clean out, there can be no such thing. So more debt manipulation it is!

“We will use those tools — I believe we will use them aggressively should the need arise to do so,” Powell said.

The Fed has traditionally been able to slash interest rates to fight a recession often by as much as 5 percentage points. But that’s impossible now because the Fed’s benchmark rate is currently in a range of 1.5%-1.75%.

“We will have less room to cut,” Powell said.

Duh.

Now comes the money line Continue reading ""We Will Use Those Tools...""

QE or Not QE: The Consequences Are The Same

It may look, swim and quack like one, but Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell insists that the Fed’s recent reinflation of its balance sheet past the $4 trillion mark isn’t quantitative easing. Oh no, he says, just because the Fed’s portfolio recently rebounded to $4.175 trillion at the middle of January, up from a six-year low of $3.76 trillion since the beginning of September, doesn’t mean that the Fed is back to its old QE ways, which had pushed the Fed’s balance sheet to a steady $4.5 trillion between 2014 and 2018 when it started to shrink.

But QE by any other name is still QE.

At least one voting member of the Fed’s monetary policy committee has expressed some concern about the recent boost in the Fed’s balance sheet – more than $400 billion in just the past four months.

“The Fed balance sheet is not free and growing the balance sheet has costs,” Robert Kaplan, the president of the Dallas Fed, told reporters at a recent Economic Club of New York event, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Many market participants believe that growth in the Fed balance sheet is supportive of higher valuations and risk assets. [That’s Fed-speak for a bubble]. I’m sympathetic to that concern.”

For the past 12 years, ever since the financial crisis in 2008, the Fed has swollen the size of its balance sheet – its holdings of U.S. Treasury and government-insured mortgage-backed securities – from less than $1 trillion to more than four times that. Its first burst of bond-buying took place in 2008, during the depths of the meltdown when its portfolio more than doubled in less than a year. It then gradually increased to more than $3 trillion over the next five years, at which time QE took it to $4.5 trillion, where it held steady until 2018, when the Fed started to allow its holdings to run off as they matured, until its recent policy U-turn.

And what was the direct result of all that buying? Continue reading "QE or Not QE: The Consequences Are The Same"

That Precious Fed Independence

Well, what do you know? That precious Federal Reserve independence we keep hearing about turns out to be a crock.

That reality was exposed in the most blatant terms last week when William Dudley, just a year removed from his serving as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York – the second most powerful position on the Fed, just below the chair – argued in a Bloomberg op-ed that the current Fed should do absolutely nothing to try to fix the economy if President Trump is hell-bent on destroying it through his tariff war with China. The Fed, he said, shouldn’t “bail out an administration that keeps making bad choices on trade policy, making it abundantly clear that Trump will own the consequences of his actions.”

But he went well beyond that, urging the Fed to use its monetary policy to help defeat Trump in the 2020 president election.

“There’s even an argument that the election itself falls within the Fed’s purview,” he said. “After all, Trump’s reelection arguably presents a threat to the U.S. and global economy, to the Fed’s independence and its ability to achieve its employment and inflation objectives. If the goal of monetary policy is to achieve the best long-term economic outcome, then Fed officials should consider how their decisions will affect the political outcome in 2020.”

Thank you, Mr. Dudley, for that admission. Some of us have suspected, Continue reading "That Precious Fed Independence"

The Fed's Tower Of Babel

There was a profusion of communications and opinions from the Federal Reserve last week. The challenge now is to try to make sense of it all.

The first thing that caught my attention was the release of a survey conducted by the New York Fed measuring how well the Fed communicates its intentions to market makers. It didn’t do so well.

The bank found that a majority, or 15 out of 24, of the primary dealer banks that bid on U.S. Treasury debt auctions and make a market in government securities found the Fed’s communications prior to its July 31 decision to lower interest rates to be “ineffective” or close to it. “Several dealers indicated that they found communication confusing, and several characterized communications from various Fed officials as inconsistent,” the New York Fed said.

A similar survey of money managers found only slightly better results, with exactly half, or 14 of 28, giving the Fed “low grades for communications effectiveness.”

Then, at the Kansas City Fed’s annual “symposium” in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Athanasios Orphanides, a professor at MIT, released a paper including suggestions on how the Fed can improve how it communicates its policy-making process. While the paper commends the Fed for increasing the amount of information it provides to the public over the past three decades – it surely has – there’s room for improvement in how it communicates that information. Specifically, Orphanides recommended that Fed members provide more details about their confidence or uncertainty in their various economic projections and how those might change given different scenarios or over time.

While all of the information the Fed already provides, and the prospect of more, is good in theory, the problem is that the Fed is providing too much information, which is creating more confusion and uncertainty, rather than less, about exactly where it stands collectively, while businesses, investors and consumers crave simple guidance on the direction of future Fed policy so they can make more intelligent decisions. Continue reading "The Fed's Tower Of Babel"