What's The Right 'Neutral' Interest Rate?

Will last Friday’s August jobs report showing that wages rose nearly 3% compared to a year ago finally convince the Federal Reserve that inflation really is starting to pick up steam? If not, what exactly will it take?

That report was certainly good news for workers, who have waited a long time – since 2009, apparently – to see their wages rise by so much. But it also provides convincing evidence that 2% inflation – which the Fed has been trying to stoke for the past 10 years – has finally arrived. But will the Fed actually believe it and do something before it “overheats,” to use its word?

A hike in the federal funds rate to 2.25% at the Fed’s September 25-26 monetary policy seems like it’s already baked in the cake. But it’s still not a given that another one will happen at the December meeting. According to CME’s Market Watch tool, the odds of a rate hike at the yearend confab are only 72%, compared to more than 98% for this month’s meeting. (While the Fed does meet in early November – just a day after the “most important election in our nation’s history,” if you believe some of the political pundits – a rate change then is very unlikely. The Fed has indicated that it will only adjust rates at a meeting that ends with a press conference by the Fed chair. That pretty much disqualifies November).

After the jobs report was released, the yield on the two-year Treasury note hit 2.70%, its highest level in more than 10 years. The benchmark 10-year note closed last week at 2.94%, its highest point in over a month. That those rates didn’t go even higher seems to indicate that the market isn’t yet sold on two more rate increases this year.

At least one member of the Fed is. Continue reading "What's The Right 'Neutral' Interest Rate?"

Don't Buy The Low Inflation Story

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell sent investors home happy for the weekend last Friday when he outlined a fairly balanced plan of interest rate increases designed to fight inflation while avoiding throwing the economy off track. Nevertheless, some economists at the Fed itself appear to believe that the central bank may not be taking the threat of inflation seriously enough.

In his prepared remarks for his speech at the Kansas City Fed’s annual policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Friday, Powell indicated that he’s not overly worried about rising inflation, or at least not enough to be more aggressive about raising rates to avoid piercing a hole in the economic balloon just as it’s starting to expand.

“While inflation has recently moved up near 2%, we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2%, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating,” the Fed chair said. Moreover, he said the Fed has to balance “moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion, versus moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating. I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the approach to taking seriously both of these risks.”

That was enough to push the S&P 500 to its first record close since January 26 and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 2.81%, which is down about 20 basis points from its recent peak of 3.00% at the beginning of this month. Continue reading "Don't Buy The Low Inflation Story"

What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?

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


The battle lines are being drawn for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting this week. The prevailing market consensus right now is that no resolution of the debate – which mainly concerns inflation – will happen at the meeting, meaning there will be no change in interest rates, and may not be before the end of this year.

One side of the issue, which seems to be the prevailing view at the central bank, was recently promulgated by Fed governor Lael Brainard at a meeting of the Economic Club of New York. “My own view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target,” she said. “We have been falling short of our inflation objective not just in the past year, but over a longer period as well. What is troubling is five straight years in which inflation fell short of our target despite a sharp improvement in resource utilization.”

The other side, which appears to be the minority opinion, is represented by William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed, who isn’t overly concerned about the current level of inflation. “Even though inflation is currently somewhat below our longer-run objective, I judge that it is still appropriate” to raise interest rates soon, he said recently. “I expect that we will continue to gradually remove monetary policy accommodation.” Continue reading "What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?"

Revamping the Fed: The Time is Now

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


Last November, shortly after the election, I wrote a column that discussed the “claustrophobic, one-dimensional, group-think atmosphere” at the Federal Reserve. “With just a couple of exceptions, everyone on the Fed, voting or non-voting, is an economist, teaches economics, or worked in the banking industry on one side or the other,” I wrote then. No business people, no small business owners, no one “who lives and works in the real world, who has to deal with the edicts the Fed hands down.”

“Wouldn’t that perspective – even one – be a useful new voice to be considered when making monetary policy?” I asked. Continue reading "Revamping the Fed: The Time is Now"

Finally, The Fed Does Something Right

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


Like many people, I have been angered and outright disgusted by the mainstream media’s disgraceful behavior during the recent presidential campaign. Back in the late 1970s, when American journalism as we used to know it still existed, my college professors taught us that one of the purposes of a free press is to serve as a watchdog over the government. Since then that noble idea has been turned on its head, as a good part of the media has become an operating arm of the ruling class and one of the two major political parties.

But what particularly bugs me is when this liberal bias crops up where I don’t expect nor want to see it. In this case, I am referring to Bloomberg and its sister Businessweek magazine, of which I have been an avid reader and subscriber for the past several years. Unfortunately, this otherwise excellent business and financial news source has succumbed to the same liberal cheerleading as its mainstream brethren. Continue reading "Finally, The Fed Does Something Right"