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"

Are We Really In A Bond Bear Market?

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


The U.S. bond market took it on the chin again last week. The question is: Was this is a harbinger of even higher yields to come or just an overreaction to some potentially scary headlines – some of which turned out to be fake news – and therefore a potential buying opportunity?

“Bond King” Bill Gross started the fun on Tuesday when he tweeted out these ominous words: “Bond bear market confirmed.” He did tone that down in his market commentary to his Janus Henderson clients, saying, “We have begun a bear market although not a dangerous one for bond investors. Annual returns should still likely be positive, although marginally so.”

Still, that’s not a whole lot to be happy about, unless you’re heavily invested in stocks, where the returns may be even worse, i.e., negative. The other so-called Bond King, Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital, predicted that the S&P 500 Index would end the year with a negative return. He also said that if the 10-year Treasury yield pushes past 2.63% – which it almost did last week – it will accelerate higher.

The news got worse after that. Continue reading "Are We Really In A Bond Bear Market?"

The Fed's 2018 New Year's Resolution

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


In February Jerome Powell takes over as chair of the Federal Reserve, succeeding Janet Yellen. His first order of business should be to get the Fed off its silly, outdated and nonsensical monetary policy target of 2% inflation. He and the other members of the Federal Open Market Committee should at the very least change the inflation target number, or, better yet, find a different measuring stick altogether.

One of the Fed’s mandates, we know, is to keep inflation “stable,” as noted on the Fed’s website, citing the Federal Reserve Act (the other two mandates are achieving maximum employment and moderate long-term interest rates). The current Fed has taken to defining price stability as 2% inflation. Given that the Fed already basically believes it has accomplished the other two objectives, and price inflation has been nothing but rock-solid stable for several years, it’s not clear why it’s still so determined to get inflation up to that 2% target rate, and letting that dictate its monetary policy. If prices are stable at about 1.5%, rather than 2%, doesn’t that meet the mandate, as long as prices are stable?

During the Great Depression of the 1930s the lack of inflation – more accurately, deflation – was a big problem, feeding the downward spiral in the economy for more than ten years. Since then, economists, both on the Fed and elsewhere, have been absolutely terrified of that happening again, even though we haven’t come close to it, not even during the depths of the recent Great Recession. Now that we have seemed to have finally pulled out of the last financial crisis, it’s time to put that deflation obsession to rest. Continue reading "The Fed's 2018 New Year's Resolution"

Trump: Bad Bankers Beware

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


So now President Trump has thrown himself into the discussion about Wells Fargo. Maybe now the bank will get the justice it deserves. And maybe now the message about Trump’s intentions about financial regulation will become less fake.

First a little background. Three months ago Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen made some pretty startling comments for a Fed chief, publicly criticizing Wells’ behavior toward its customers as “egregious and unacceptable.”

She was talking, of course, about the bank’s years-long practice of signing up its customers for checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and other products without asking their permission or even telling them. But since then there have been reports and admissions by the bank of several other excesses, such as charging auto loan customers for insurance they didn’t ask for, dunning mortgage customers for interest rate-lock extension fees when the bank itself caused the delays, overcharging military veterans on mortgage refinance loans, and allegedly closing customers’ accounts without telling them why it did so.

You would think that the Fed – which regulates Wells and other big banks – would have come down on the bank by now. Yet nothing’s happened since Yellen made those comments.

Then last week the president injected himself into the fray. Continue reading "Trump: Bad Bankers Beware"

Fleeing The Fed Ship

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


William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has become the latest senior Fed official to announce his retirement. He follows Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, who announced his intention to resign in September, and Daniel Tarullo, the central bank's top financial regulator, who announced his resignation back in February.

Of course, the biggest departure at the Fed was one that wasn’t voluntary, namely President Trump decision not to renominate Janet Yellen for another term as Fed chair, ignoring 40 years of precedent to reappoint a sitting Fed chief. Instead, of course, he nominated Fed governor Jerome Powell to replace her when her four-year term ends in February. Still, Yellen is entitled to finish her 14-year term as a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, which doesn’t expire for another seven years, on January 31, 2024, although her staying on would also be unprecedented.
All told, there are now three open seats on the seven-member Board of Governors, which of course may rise to four if Yellen elects to leave.

It’s pertinent to ask, then: What are all the departures at the Fed, both voluntary and involuntarily, signaling? Is it simply senior officials graciously moving aside to let a new president get a chance to pick his own people? Or is there something more sinister afoot, namely, do they indicate that a big change in the market is about to occur and they want to get out before the chickens come home to roost? Continue reading "Fleeing The Fed Ship"