Put The Blame On Me

At least since the global financial crisis of 2008, Federal Reserve officials have, by and large, denied or downplayed the idea that their zero-interest-rate policies and mammoth bond purchases have artificially inflated financial assets even as the Fed is buying trillions – with a capital T – of U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities markets and more recently corporate bonds. Now the presidents of a few of the Fed’s regional banks are suggesting that the Fed study whether its monetary policies are encouraging overly risky investor behavior.

Loretta Mester, the president of the Cleveland Fed, conceded that prolonged periods of low rates could incite “higher levels of borrowing and financial leverage, increased valuation pressures, and search-for-yield behavior.”

“While monetary policy that leads to a stable macroeconomy encourages financial stability, it is also possible that in an environment with low neutral rates, a persistently accommodative monetary policy could, in some cases, increase the vulnerabilities of the financial system,” she said.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren went even further, suggesting that the Fed “rethink” financial regulation – but apparently not monetary policy – to rein in speculative behavior. Continue reading "Put The Blame On Me"

Federal Reserve: Trick or Treat

Want to guess who Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is going as for Halloween? Based on his most recent speech on the economy, it’s got to be the Grim Reaper.

Even as reports continue to show the economy recovering pretty quickly following the government-mandated shutdown of the spring and summer – which several of his Federal Reserve colleagues have cited – Powell continues to paint the direst picture of the American economy. However, this time, he has gone beyond the bounds of the Fed’s independence, publicly politicking for a new federal fiscal stimulus package. If one doesn’t arrive soon, he warned, it will be “tragic” and “lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship.”

“The recovery will be stronger and move faster if monetary policy and fiscal policy continue to work side by side to provide support to the economy until it is clearly out of the woods,” Powell said in a speech last week to the National Association for Business Economics.

I had been under the impression that the Fed was supposed to be “independent” of the government, or at least that’s what we were told repeatedly when President Trump went off on Powell for not doing what he wanted. However, it seems to be ok if Powell cedes that independence voluntarily and takes sides on a political debate.

This isn’t so much an example of charter creep, which just about every government agency and leader does, as much as a charter leap, with the Fed not only taking over more and more of the economy and financial markets but publicly lobbying for government action to make it so. Continue reading "Federal Reserve: Trick or Treat"

Do We Really Need More Stimulus?

As we speak, Republicans and Democrats are still wrestling over another coronavirus stimulus package. Everyone wants one, we’re told, and the economy needs one.

Don’t start spending that stimulus check just yet.

Despite what they claim, Democrats don’t really want a deal, no matter how big, at least not until after the election. Do you really believe that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want to allow President Trump to play Santa Claus and send out $1,200 checks to American voters right before the election? Needless to say, the president would just love to have his name on those checks.

So don’t count on another stimulus package until after the election, if then. It’s a valid question of whether the country really needs another one. But never fear, the Federal Reserve will step in where Congress fears to tread.

At its September 15-16 monetary policy meeting – the last one before Election Day – the Fed updated and revised its prognosis upward for the U.S. economy, finally catching up with many other analysts and some of its own regional banks who are forecasting a much brighter picture than Fed Chair Jerome Powell and many other Fed officials have been painting over the past couple of months.

The Fed now expects U.S. economic growth to be negative 3.7% for this year, a big upgrade from its negative 6.5% projection in June. It also expects positive growth of 4.0% next year (down from 5.0%), 3.0% in 2022 and 2.5% in 2023. Regarding unemployment, it expects the jobless rate to fall to 7.6% this year from its June projection of 9.3%, declining further to 5.5% next year, 4.6% in 2022, and 4.0% – i.e., full employment – in 2023. Continue reading "Do We Really Need More Stimulus?"

The Fed Makes It Official

The Fed recently enacted what the experts are calling a historic policy change. More accurately, it’s the official acknowledgment of what the Fed has already been doing, namely keeping interest low, seemingly forever. What it also means is that it sharply alters the old 60-40 investment mix, to something more like 80-20 or 80-10-10.

The Fed is basically assuming that inflation will be nonexistent – or, at least manageable – for the foreseeable future and is, therefore, willing to let it run “hotter” for longer than it used to before it steps in and raises interest rates. But is that a realistic assumption? Nearly unanimously, Fed officials have been touting the party line that the economy is bad – despite numerous reports that show it is snapping back pretty strongly – and is likely to stay that way or get even worse – which may not be the case. The stock market certainly doesn’t seem to be buying that.

What the Fed seems to be doing is baking in the cake its already oversized role in the economy (and society) and keeping it that way “for as far as the eye can see.”

As I noted in my previous column, cynics might draw the conclusion that the Fed is purposely dumbing down its economic forecasts so as to cement its role for the long-term. Jerome Powell’s streamed announcement at the Jackson Hole summit pretty much made that de facto.

So what does that do for your portfolio? Given that the Fed has now determined that rates will stay low for the foreseeable future, do bonds have any place in your portfolio? What would be the point? Continue reading "The Fed Makes It Official"

Fed Rules Out Yield Curve Control (For Now)

That we are even having this conversation is proof that we are and have been in…

alice in wonderland

Wonderland for years now.

Since at least 2001, actually. Back then Alan the Wizard Greenspan (mixing classic fairy stories, I know) began pulling levers that could never be un-pulled. There were no breadcrumbs with which to find our way back. Off the charts is off the charts. Exponential is exponential. And that’s when funny munny out of thin air entered the realm of normalcy; new normalcy where the financial system is concerned.

I assume that the ‘tool’ known as yield curve control (per this article) is part of MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) TMM (Total Market Manipulation) that the eggheads promote with not an ounce of historical monetary grounding, caution or even human-like soul. They are monetary Humanoids, AKA bureaucrats, AKA economic Ph.Ds with more statistical and theoretical knowledge than common sense. They released the FOMC minutes and policy micro-managers offer their interpretations. Continue reading "Fed Rules Out Yield Curve Control (For Now)"