The Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has reposed his faith in the strength of the US domestic economy which is based on lower taxes and less regulations. Expressing his satisfaction during a Q-and-A session with Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, Powell said, “I am very happy about the state of the economy now.”
More importantly, Powell made it emphatically clear that the markets must get used to the idea of rising interest rates in 2019, and the Fed could do it at any time during the year. Some people believe that is political but this is another topic.
Nonetheless, The Fed never praised the economy from 2009 to 2016.
Crediting the Fed for a Strong Domestic Economy
Powell agreed during the interview in Dallas that the pace of global economic growth has slowed down compared to the last year. He described it as a gradual decline, but not a drastic slowdown. However, he added that the general picture of the domestic economy looks good despite the global headwinds.
Crediting the efforts of the Fed, Powell said that the Fed’s policy of monetary tightening was part of the reason why the US economy is in a fairly robust position now.
Although President Trump, who understands the private sector because he came from it, has said that the Fed’s interest rate policy has emerged as a serious threat to domestic economic growth and for good reason. If Powell is a Democrat, does he want the economy to do well since he knows Republicans will use this to promote themselves?
Powell maintained that the Fed will continue to think independently and do what it believes is best to balance economic growth and inflation, while ensuring continued financial stability.
Rates Will Rise Any Time in 2019
The Fed’s confidence has led to a clear commitment by the FOMC policymakers to continue to hike short-term interest rates in a slow but steady manner. In 2018, three quarter-point hikes have already been made, with another one expected next month.
During the interaction with Kaplan, Powell emphasized that investors should be aware that the Fed will no longer be raising the interest rates only in a quarterly fashion. Powell had said earlier this year that he would meet with media persons after every FOMC meeting (eight meetings in a year).
The Fed wants investors to get used to the idea that interest rates can be moved at any time or at any of the meetings. About the extent of rate hikes in 2019 and beyond, Powell said that the Fed is carefully considering how far the rates should be increased going forward, and at what pace. He assured that they will be closely watching how the economy and the markets respond to their policy.
When asked about the current market volatility, which has resulted in a significant correction in major stocks, Powell remarked that stock market prices are just one of the many factors they consider to assess the health of the economy.
Following Powell’s interview, Chris Gaffney, the president of world markets for TIAA Bank, said that the Fed chairman’s comments prove that the Federal Reserve will stay on the path of rates increase.
Concerns About Global Growth and US Debt
While the US economy has achieved a consistent 3 percent-plus growth through 2018 much to the dismay of so many people such as Paul Krugman, the global scenario has been quite different. Unlike 2017, when the world experienced largely synchronized growth, this year, the US has marched ahead of many of its international peers.
Powell said that the Fed’s mandate is to focus on the US domestic economy, and create policies that lead to financial stability, maximum employment, and stable prices. However, he added that what happens around the world cannot be ignored.
He also repeated his concerns about the “unsustainable” fiscal path of the American economy, as the deficits and debt continue to mount. With the budget shortfall nearing $1 trillion a year, and national IOUs in excess of $21 trillion, the fiscal state of the economy remains a major worry.
America spends more on public schools than many other countries and America’s health care costs are amazing.
Housing Market Concerns
In the earlier part of the session, Powell said that the recent signs of weakness in the housing market were a matter of concern. While he agreed that the overall financial risk was moderate, with neither households nor banks heavily leveraged, he commented that corporate borrowing has caught the attention of the Fed.
Factors that seem to be weighing on home building at the moment include labor shortage, rising material costs, also higher interest rates. As a result, the costs of home mortgage are on the rise.
More Agility in Fed Policy
The Fed chairman stressed that the decision to have a press conference after every Fed meeting in 2019 will create more room for policy agility. It will get the markets away from the belief that the Fed can only change policy once a quarter.
He remarked that the markets seem to have got into the mode that the interest rates can only move during press conference meetings. But over time, the investors will have to get used to greater policy agility from the Fed.
Following these comments, Michael Hanson, the chief macro strategist at TD Securities said that this is one of the important takeaways from Powell’s session. He has tried to shift mindsets away from forward guidance and forecasts. Hanson said he believes the Fed aims to be “nimble” in order to act as the economic data comes in.
Interpreting the chairman’s session a little differently, CNBC’s Jim Cramer told investors on his program Mad Money that it appears that the comments of Powell may have been his own way to say that investors should be careful because the there are signs of the US economy slowing. If that is the case then why does The Fed continue to speak about raising the interest rates even more?
In addition, according to Larry Kudlow, the economy is doing very well.