It is no secret that the Federal Reserve has continued to raise interest rates. What has been up for debate in recent months is whether the Fed wants to keep raising rates to the point that it helps to wreck the economic growth story. Some Fed events and speeches are worth covering more than others, and that was definitely the case on Friday.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell spoke during a panel with former Fed Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke in Atlanta on Friday, January 4, 2018. After waves of criticism, including harsh words from President Donald Trump, it looks as though Powell finally has absorbed the recent stock market volatility, falling bond yields, key warnings from corporate America and weaker economic reports.
With a median target of two rate hikes expected in 2019, Powell made three key points that were responsible for the second leg higher of Friday’s huge stock market gains.
He suggested flexibility on interest rates this year and that the Fed was not on a fixed path to keep raising interest rates. This may be the key driver, even if Powell’s hawkishness has been far more muted of late than prior to December. Investors should not take this to mean that all rate hikes are hereby on hold, but they are interpreting this as a signal that the rate hikes are far closer to ending, rather than continuing endlessly based on historical “neutral rate” levels.
Another point is that Powell said he would not resign if the president asked him to. This is after the president was openly vocal about his displeasure with Powell’s interest rate hikes and the dwindling down of the Fed’s balance sheet. It remains unclear if a president can even “unseat” a Federal Reserve chair. Powell also has suggested that the public need not worry about the Fed bowing to political pressure. And Powell said that no one from the White House had directly reached out to discuss interest rates.
A third key point made by Powell is that he was not worried about the winding down of the massive balance sheet having a serious role in the market’s recent decline. And he also said that the Fed would change its actions if it sees that winding down of the balance sheet is a more important part of the story.
One of the Federal Reserve’s key positions has been that without raising interest rates it will not have any ammunition to combat the next recession or economic turmoil ahead. While that very well may be true, it sometimes feels like being a parent and punishing your kid because you know with almost certainty that the kid will get into trouble in the coming days.
Stocks had surged on a strong jobs report Friday morning, and after Thursday’s 600 or so point drop in the Dow Jones industrials. Still, a gain of 350 points or so turned into a gain of more than 700.