Last week, President Donald Trump tweeted that the "boneheads" at the Federal Reserve should reduce the federal funds interest rate that the Fed tries to control to zero, or even less, in an attempt to goose the economy.
Today, in what is surely a complete coincidence, given the Federal Reserve's much-vaunted political independence, the Federal Reserve Board announced a quarter percentage point cut in their target interest rate, getting it down to the 1.75-2 percent range. This is the second cut since July and they hint there might be another one before the year is over.
There better be, in the opinion of the president, who reacted to the news with another tweet that Federal Reserve Chief Jerome Powell (a Trump appointee!) and his institution "Fail Again. No "guts," no sense, no vision!"
Scott Sumner, a monetary economist of the "market monetarism" school, reacted via email last week to Trump's original tweet with the observation that "President Trump needs to be careful what he asks for," given that, from Sumner's perspective, "Near-zero interest rates can reflect an expansionary monetary policy, but more often they reflect very weak growth in nominal spending, caused by an inappropriately tight policy over a number of years. That has certainly been the case in Japan and the Eurozone."
"Trump presumably favors low rates created by easy money, but he'd be better off in stating his policy preferences in terms of inflation or nominal GDP growth," Sumner believes. Nonetheless, for his own reasons, Sumner declared on his blog today both that he considers Fed actions like this a feckless "yawn" (he thinks Fed moves have less influence than they used to in the current environment) and that they'd have been better off cutting a half a percent.
CNBC muses on a sign in the markets of Federal Reserve powerlessness over the interest rate it tries to control even as this move is announced:
It's been a rough week in the overnight funding market, where interest rates temporarily spiked to as high as 10% for some transactions Monday and Tuesday…
The odd spike in rates forced the Fed to jump in with money market operations aimed at reining them in, and after the second operation Wednesday morning, it seemed to have calmed the market. The Fed announced a third operation for Thursday morning.
In a rare move, the Fed's own benchmark fed funds target rate rose to 2.3% on Tuesday, above the target range set when it cut rates at its last meeting in July…
"This just doesn't look good. You set your target. You're the all-powerful Fed. You're supposed to control it and you can't on Fed day. It looks bad. This has been a tough run for Powell," said Michael Schumacher, director, rate strategy, at Wells Fargo….
Ron Paul, the former congressman and presidential candidate and sparkplug of modern Federal Reserve skepticism, thinks that monetary policy attempts to keep goosing the economy will likely lead to Trump's desire for zero or negative interest rates, and that this will lead to an unpredictable but dangerous asset price bubble burst.
As Barron's notes, a return to the immediate post-2008-financial-crisis bond-buying policies (remember "quantitative easing"?) on the part of the Fed also likely looms. Jeffrey Hummel wrote in Reason back in 2014 on the dangers of the Federal Reserve becoming such a huge holder of financial assets.