Banking & Finance

Bullard Explains FOMC Vote, Fed Spends Another $75 Billion on Repo Market

James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, cast one of three dissenting votes at this week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), where a quarter-point rate cut was approved. Unlike the other two dissenters who though rates should be left unchanged, Bullard wanted a larger cut (half a point) to the Fed’s policy rate.

In a statement posted Friday morning on the St. Louis Fed’s website, Bullard explained his reasons for wanting a bigger cut. He gave two primary reasons: expected slower U.S. economic growth and inflation well below the Fed’s 2% target rate.

Like Fed Chair Jerome Powell, Bullard pointed to increasing uncertainty over U.S. trade policy. In his comments following Wednesday’s FOMC announcement, Powell admitted that the Fed does not have the tools to address uncertainty in international trade. The implication of Powell’s remarks were clear enough: if the president of the United States is worried about an economic slump, knock it off with the trade war. Bullard does not go as far as Powell, and, in fact, seems to agree with Trump in substance if not degree. The president has said he sees no reason why the Fed can’t lower the policy rate to zero or even below.

On inflation, Bullard noted that projections of longer-term inflation rates are “substantially below the [FOMC’s] target.” He also said that there is “little evidence” that current low unemployment rates constitute a “substantial inflation risk.” In all, Bullard says, “a 50 basis point cut at this time would help promote a more rapid return of inflation and inflation expectations to target.”

In other Fed news, the New York Fed sunk another $75 billion into its overnight repurchase (repo) operation. That brings the four-day total to $278 billion in temporary cash for financial institutions in exchange for an equal amount of Treasury securities.

These open-market operations probably can’t go on indefinitely and Powell has indicated that he would be looking at what’s happening in the repo market and what the Fed can do about. One suggesting solution calls for a standing repo facility that would eliminate the need for the central bank to intervene when short-term cash is tight.