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Fed’s James Bullard Advises Fed to “Tread Carefully” Around Recession Signals

St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard spoke on Thursday at a community development event in Tulepo, Mississippi, stating that two important signals are emerging which require careful attention.

Key Takeaways

  • Bullard stated that yields on US federal debt securities as well as investor bets on inflation outlook should be analyzed carefully by policymakers.
  • “These market-based signals indicate that the FOMC needs to tread carefully going forward in order to sustain the economic expansion.”
  • Bullard said an extended period wherein interest rates are lower for short-term government debt than long-term debt could lead to a recession.

A typically dovish Fed official, Bullard has a vote on the interest rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).

A slide at his conference appearance read “These market-based signals indicate that the FOMC needs to tread carefully going forward in order to sustain the economic expansion.” Bullard stated that policymakers need to prepare to navigate a situation in which interest rates for short-term government debt are lower than those for long-term debt for an extended period, stating that such a situation may arise and signal a recession in doing so.

His presentation slides outlined that some parts of the yield curve being monitored are already inverted, with yields for the 3-year and 5-year U.S. Treasury notes now lower than those on 2-year notes and Treasury bills.

He added that investors seem to be taking the view that the Fed will not meet its 2% inflation target either in 2019 or over the next 5 years.

Fed’s Normalization is at an End

Bullard did state that normalization has come to an end as planned, and that further changes to monetary policy by the Fed would be for macroeconomic reasons rather than tweaks to the normalization process. This may bode well for reduced market volatility, meaning the Fed can remain hands-off except when major changes are required.

The Federal balance sheet rose to $4.5 trillion as the Fed bought assets to stimulate growth – the process of balance sheet normalization involved allowing $50 billion a month in mature assets to “ru n off” or mature without being replaced, leading to concerns of economic upheaval due to the scale of the assets being handled. The normalization process was viewed as a wildcard capable of introducing turbulence and unexpected outliers in the financial markets, and the end of the process will be welcomed by most traders.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have dipped today following tame inflation reports and unexpected strength from the labor market with initial jobless claims hitting a 49-year low. The comments from Bullard solidify the market view on tame inflation pressure.

Spot gold last traded down -1.07% at $1,295.05/oz following a session high of $1,309.82/oz and a low of $1,295.35/oz.

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