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"