Shutdown Or Not, The Fed Abides

Here’s an additional reason to be thankful for the independence of the Federal Reserve. Since the Fed does not receive funding through the congressional budgetary process and is largely self-funded through the interest on its massive government securities portfolio, plus its many other activities, we don’t have to worry that this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting will fall victim to the partial government shutdown.

But how much will actually happen at the meeting that can be expected to move the financial markets?

One thing we do know is that Fed Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference after the meeting ends at 2:00 EST. Last summer Powell announced that he will hold a presser at the end of each of the Fed’s 10 scheduled meetings, not just every three months.

But it’s unlikely that the Fed will raise interest rates at the meeting, after Powell largely put the kibosh on that idea late last year, when under extraordinary pressure from President Trump and just about everyone investor within reach of a microphone he and his Fed colleagues surrendered and said “no mas” to any more monetary tightening for a while. Continue reading "Shutdown Or Not, The Fed Abides"

Sorry, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

So who looks more right now, President Trump or Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell? Based on the market’s reaction to last week’s Fed rate increase, we’d have to say it isn’t Powell.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t right, at least looking at the situation objectively and what Powell is supposed to be doing as Fed chair. While it’s certainly arguable that the Fed does need to take a pause from raising interest rates for a few months to fully digest the recent economic data, which is showing the economy slowing some – but nowhere near a recession – it is right to continue tightening, no matter how unpalatable that is to the market.

Quite frankly, most of the calls for the Fed to refrain from raising interest rates are blatantly self-serving. Of course, investors don’t want the Fed to ever tighten policy, because, as we’ve seen, higher rates mean lower stock prices. Not many people like that, especially when it’s been ingrained in them over the past 10 years that stock prices only go one way – up – and that “buying the dips” is a no-lose strategy to make up for past losses.

Welcome to reality, folks. Continue reading "Sorry, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus"

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?"

Is The Housing Market About To Turn Positive?

One of the anomalies of the current economic rebound compared to past recoveries is the virtual absence of the housing market in the upturn. Not only has the housing industry – and its symbiotic partner, the mortgage market – failed to lead or even participate in the recovery, as it usually does, it’s been a laggard most of the way.

The main reason, of course, is the huge change in perception among young Americans about the attractiveness of home ownership. Most of them grew up during the housing boom of the early 2000s and the subsequent bust following the financial crisis – indeed, the housing bust was the root cause of the crisis – so homeownership for many of them has mostly negative connotations, as opposed to a symbol of the American Dream.

Then there’s the burden of student loan debt, which has made homeownership unaffordable for many, so it’s not hard to see why the U.S. homeownership rate has dropped to 64.3% most recently, down from the peak of 69.2% at the end of 2004.

Making matters even worse is the relative lack of homes for sale, which has created a huge supply-and-demand imbalance pushing prices in most areas of the country higher. The reason for the lack of supply is threefold: Older homeowners don’t want to give up the 3.5% mortgage they’ve refinanced into over the past several years. And many of them still can’t sell their homes at the price they want because the value is still below where it was 10 years ago. They’re also reluctant to sell their homes only to have to find a new home at an inflated price. Continue reading "Is The Housing Market About To Turn Positive?"

Where Do We Go From Here?

As expected, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged at last week’s post-Election Day monetary policy meeting, while signaling another 25-basis point increase in the federal funds rate at its December 18-19 get-together.

But the results of last week’s elections, which returned control of the House to the Democrats, may put future rate increases next year in doubt. That bodes well for long-term Treasury bond prices – i.e., yields may have peaked.

As we know, Maxine Waters, D-California, is now the likely next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. To put it mildly, she doesn’t like banks. Her first order of business, no doubt, is to impeach President Trump, as she’s said countless times. But a more realistic second goal will be to roll back all or most of the recent bank regulatory measures made so far by the Trump Administration, which, of course, rolled back much of the regulatory measures passed under the previous administration, mainly through the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

If she’s successful, that will reduce the mammoth profits the banks have been making the past several years, which were boosted further by the Republicans’ tax reform law. That sharply reduced corporate income tax rates, not just for banks but all companies, although the banks seem to be the biggest beneficiaries. No doubt Waters and her Democrat colleagues have that in their gunsights also.

But that won’t be the end of it. Continue reading "Where Do We Go From Here?"