What To Expect From This Week's Fed Meeting

Was last week’s tiny decrease in the August consumer price index just enough to dissuade the Federal Reserve from announcing this Wednesday that it’s planning to start tapering its massive $120 billion a month asset purchase program? The financial markets and the financial press interpreted (hoped?) the report signaled that inflation might really be transitory after all and that the Fed will have no reason to reduce its purchases—at least not yet.

The headline CPI number rose 0.3% from July, slightly below the prior month’s 0.5% jump. The year-on-year increase came in at 5.3%, down a mere one-tenth of a percentage point from July’s 5.4% pace. That prompted near-euphoria from some analysts that the recent spike in inflation over the past five months had mercifully come to an end, giving the Fed little reason to begin the taper soon.

Needless to say, the release a few days before of the producer price index, which jumped 0.7% from the prior month and 8.3% YOY, got much less attention, even though producer prices often presage higher consumer prices. Indeed, many manufacturers have begun to announce they must and will raise prices and make them stick, meaning inflation is anything but transitory.

The Fed, however, is likely to stick to its earlier policy intention to let inflation run “hotter for longer” and not make a commitment to start tapering just yet, despite recent comments from a bevy of Fed officials—including Fed Chair Jerome Powell—that it is poised to do so. The Fed never said what “hotter” or “longer” meant, but five straight months of 4%-plus annualized inflation may not have met the criteria, whatever it is. Instead, Powell has realigned his focus from inflation to the jobs market, fostering full employment being the Fed’s other mandate. And on that score, following August’s disappointing jobs report, we are definitely not in the taper zone just yet. Continue reading "What To Expect From This Week's Fed Meeting"

Has The Taper Been Tabled?

A funny thing happened on the way to the taper, the U.S. jobs market hit a brick wall.

Last week’s underwhelming jobs report for August, which showed the U.S. economy adding only 235,000 jobs—less than a third of the consensus estimate of 740,000 and down sharply from July’s upwardly revised total of 1.05 million, may have put the kibosh on the Federal Reserve’s prospective plan to start reducing its $120 billion a month purchases of government and mortgage securities.

Last month, you’ll remember, Fed chair Jerome Powell, in his Jackson Hole speech, seemed to have joined the bandwagon started by his central bank colleagues calling for the Fed to start the tapering process soon. “If the economy evolved broadly as anticipated, it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year,” he said. However, he also provided this caveat: “Today, with substantial slack remaining in the labor market and the pandemic continuing, such a mistake could be particularly harmful.”

Friday’s job report could have provided enough of a reason not to taper, or at least put it on hold. Particularly discouraging was the net no new jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry after adding 350,000 jobs a month over the prior six months, including a net loss of 42,000 jobs in bars and restaurants. Continue reading "Has The Taper Been Tabled?"

Looking Past Powell

Jerome Powell's term as chair of the Federal Reserve doesn't end until next February, but the handicapping of his reappointment has already begun. A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal found that three-quarters of economists it surveyed believe Powell will be renominated by President Biden, but I would argue that the odds are at best 50-50, if not lower.

Powell has unquestionably been friendly to the financial markets, which counts in his favor on Wall Street, but that may be a detriment when it comes to the progressives who are likely to have the biggest voice in choosing the next Fed chair. Right off the bat, Powell checks off none of the boxes that progressives are looking for, and as he has shown since his inauguration, Biden almost never goes against what they want.

Let’s look at Powell’s negatives: He's a white male. He's a Republican. He comes from Wall Street. He's rich (although most people at this level are). Let's also not forget that Powell was nominated to his position by President Trump, which automatically disqualifies him in the eyes of many, never mind the constant barrage of criticism Trump leveled at him once he was seated.

Just the taint of being associated with the former president should be enough to make him unsuitable for another term.

More importantly, however, Powell has not publicly bought into the prized objectives of the left, namely using the Fed to further social policy (i.e., wealth redistribution) and climate change initiatives, asserting that those are political decisions better left to Congress. Continue reading "Looking Past Powell"

Don't Fear The Taper

Long, long ago, even before the 2008 global financial crisis, the world’s central bankers, including the Fed, shifted their focus from trying to fight inflation to trying to create it. As we know, however, that pursuit of the holy grail of 2% has taken more than a dozen years, and now that we appear to be there, and well beyond it, in fact, the Fed refuses to believe it.

Ever since the economy began reopening earlier this year, the U.S. year-on-year inflation rate has been rising steadily and strongly, well above the Fed’s 2% target. In May, the YOY rise in the consumer price index hit 5.0%, while the core index, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 3.8%. Looking ahead, it’s hard to see inflation easing anytime soon, given the trend in rising worker’s wages, which once on the books are going to be hard to pull back, especially given the dearth of workers relative to job openings. Prices are also rising due to strong pent-up demand that is far outpacing the supply of goods, due partly to the lack of workers.

Yet Fed Chair Jerome Powell continues to insist that this recent surge in inflation is “transitory,” a mere temporary reaction to the economic reopening.

Is he saying that because he really believes it, or because he’s worried what will happen if the Fed starts to turn down the juice, even a little bit, and with a fair warning? Continue reading "Don't Fear The Taper"

The Fed's Great Adventure in Inflation

In the current policy and media stoked market environment, anything is possible.  It's  the wonderful, magical world of hands-on policy making.  5 years after the financial crisis, but still not enjoying a ramping economy like the good old (and long gone) days of the last great secular bull market (RIP 2000)?  Just sit back, relax and let the man in charge control the image.

"For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits." Continue reading "The Fed's Great Adventure in Inflation"