What's Next For The Fed?

Now that the Federal Reserve has formally announced its taper plans, what can we expect next?

The Taper

First of all, let’s not go into panic mode because the Fed is suddenly reducing its asset purchases. In the statement following its November 2-3 meeting, the Fed said it would “begin reducing the monthly pace of its net asset purchases by $10 billion for Treasury securities and $5 billion for agency mortgage-backed securities.” In the scheme of Fed purchases, that’s practically nothing, you won’t even feel it. Indeed, in the very next sentence, the Fed also announced the converse of that, namely that starting this month, it “will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $70 billion per month and of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $35 billion per month. Beginning in December, the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $60 billion per month and of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $30 billion per month.”

Note the operative word, Increase. So yes, it’s accurate to say that the Fed is reducing its asset purchases, but it’s not going away, far from it. It’s still buying a ton of securities. Remember that the Fed’s balance sheet currently totals $8.5 trillion and still growing. Now, the Fed did add that “it is prepared to adjust the pace of purchases if warranted by changes in the economic outlook,” which most market participants take to mean that the Fed is more likely to speed up, not slow down, the pace of purchases, given the current robust state of the economy. That’s a good thing and long overdue. Continue reading "What's Next For The Fed?"

Prepare For A Post-Powell Fed

If financial market participants were voting, Jerome Powell would likely win a resounding second term as Federal Reserve chair. He would also probably be approved by the Senate, but that would assume President Biden nominated him. Unfortunately, that's become less likely to happen.

The latest straw against him was the trading scandal that led to the resignation of two of the Fed's 12 regional bank presidents. While the Fed last week announced new restrictions on trading to prevent this from happening again, it also brings the scandal back into the public eye at the worst possible time for Powell, whose terms end in February. While he certainly can't be blamed for the deeds of others—especially when they happened at the Fed's regional banks, not the Fed itself—and he deserves credit for acting swiftly and decisively in their wake, the fact is that they occurred on his watch. As a result, he won't be able to deflect all of the blame.

More to the point, it exposes how cozy the Fed is to the financial markets when its officials are supposed to be purer than Caesar's wife. While Powell probably didn't know about those two Fed presidents' trades beforehand, the episode makes it look like the Fed chair isn't in charge of his own house. Continue reading "Prepare For A Post-Powell Fed"

Is The Worker Shortage Transitory?

For the past several months, there have been two "T" words that have captivated the financial markets.

The first, of course, is the "Taper," which now looks like it may be starting as early as next month. Following its September monetary policy meeting, the Federal Reserve—using its usual weasel words—didn't exactly say it was ready to taper, but basically confirmed that it would begin soon, saying that "a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted." So we can probably expect the Fed to provide more definite information following its next meeting in early November, and that may include a start date of later that month.

The second "T" word is "Transitory," as in the "inflation is transitory" mantra Fed chair Jerome Powell has been repeating for most of 2021. However, recently he's backed off a little on that stance, telling Congress last month that while he believes inflation will eventually return to the Fed's 2% target rate, "these effects have been larger and longer-lasting than anticipated." In other words, maybe inflation isn't as transitory as he says, therefore the need to taper.

Now, after two crummy monthly job reports in a row, it may be fair to ask if the shortage of workers holding back the economy isn't transitory either. Continue reading "Is The Worker Shortage Transitory?"

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"