Blowin' In The Wind

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week held sacred the Fed’s “precious” independence, but he apparently forgot how quickly and easily it’s been bullied into altering its monetary policy by both politicians and influential financial markets people.

Until just a couple of months ago, the Fed was determined to “normalize” interest rates and its enormous balance sheet. But after a relative – emphasis on that word – weak patch for the economy and howls of pain from investors during last year’s correction, the Powell Fed was lighting quick to reverse course and put a halt to more rate hikes and portfolio runoff until further notice.

Not surprisingly, the financial press hasn’t given President Trump any credit for this (if credit is the right word in this instance), even though he was clearly the first and loudest basher of tightening Fed policy. Wall Street then jumped on the bandwagon, and voila, we have a new “patient” Fed and an easier monetary policy – and the best January for stocks since the 1980s.
Powell and other members of the Fed have tried to justify their abrupt about-face by noting recent weak – again, relatively speaking – economic data. But January’s robust nonfarm payrolls report – nearly double the consensus forecast – calls that into serious question. Continue reading "Blowin' In The Wind"

Is The Fed Done Tightening After December?

It’s beginning to look a lot like the Federal Reserve is done tightening, at least after next week’s monetary policy meeting, when it’s expected to raise interest rates another 25 basis points, to 2.5%, its fourth rate hike this year. After that, however, it’s looking less and less likely that it will raise rates at all next year, certainly not four times, which seemed to be the market consensus not all that long ago.

As we know well, Fed chair Jerome Powell told the Economic Club of New York late last month that interest rates are “just below” the so-called neutral rate, a retreat from his comments less than two months earlier that the fed funds rate was a “long way” from neutral. That sparked a big, but short-lived, rally in both bonds and stocks, as it left investors with the idea that Powell and the Fed are going to be a lot less hawkish moving forward in light of still somnolent inflation and now signs of a weakening economy, exacerbated by the recent inversion of some Treasury bond yield curves, which traditionally have been a sign of impending recession.

As CNBC’s Jim “Mad Money” Cramer noted on Monday, the Fed "risks its credibility" if it doesn’t raise rates next week, a move it has been telegraphing for several months. Failure to do so risks setting off a market panic because, as Cramer said, the Fed could create the impression that “there's something really wrong that we don't know about.” So the Fed has largely backed itself into a corner and must go through with it, whether it wants to now or not.

But what about next year? Continue reading "Is The Fed Done Tightening After December?"

Be Careful What You Wish For

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


When doing some background research for this column, I came across this article in the May 12, 2017, edition of the Los Angeles Times: “Something Trump and Elizabeth Warren Agree On: Bringing Back Glass-Steagall to Break Up Big Banks.”

Whatever happened to that idea?

As kookie and wrong-headed on other issues as Senator “Pocahontas” often is, she’s at least been pretty consistent when it comes to her view of the banking industry (she doesn’t like it). And according to the article, she wasn’t alone in wanting to “break up the biggest U.S. banks.” Guess who else was on that list? None other than departing White House chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.

Trump himself said, “We’re looking at it right now as we speak,” referring to “going back to the old system” under the Glass-Steagall Act in which commercial and investment banking were separated. Continue reading "Be Careful What You Wish For"

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"