Powell, Eyeing Trade War, Suggests Fed Could Turn to Interest Rates if Needed – Smart Media Magazine

Powell, Eyeing Trade War, Suggests Fed Could Turn to Interest Rates if Needed

The president’s actions on trade have left the Fed in a tough spot. Growth remains above its longer-run trend and the job market is strong, which would argue against rate cuts. Plus, trade disputes could be resolved quickly, removing a major obstacle to continued expansion. But inflation is already low, and if a global slowdown drags on the United States economy, Fed rates are still historically low — which could argue for quick, decisive action, since the central bank’s recession-fighting ammunition is limited.

Mr. Trump himself has been pushing the Fed to cut rates, even contrasting the central bank with China’s.

“China is adding great stimulus to its economy while at the same time keeping interest rates low. Our Federal Reserve has incessantly lifted interest rates, even though inflation is very low, and instituted a very big dose of quantitative tightening,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet on April 30. He said that the economy would go up like a “rocket” if the central bank cut rates.

That also raises an optical problem for the central bank, which is independent of the White House. A move to cut rates could look political, even if it arose from a change in the economic landscape. Officials have reiterated time and again that they will make policy decisions based on the economic outlook, and that politics will not influence them in either direction.

After the Fed raised rates nine times since 2015, investors late last year began to grow concerned that monetary policy might be too tight, potentially risking the start of a recession. That helped send stock markets sharply lower, with the S&P 500 losing nearly 14 percent in the last three months of 2018.

Then, in early January, the central bank abruptly shifted its tone away from previous plans to continue lifting interest rates this year, and instead emphasized that it would remain patient, flexible and attuned to signals being sent by financial markets.

Some analysts question whether fresh Fed cuts would stimulate a similar reaction now. A decade into an economic expansion, lower interest rates might not measurably improve the outlook for corporate profits, the economy or the stock market, they say.

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