The Federal Reserve’s Next Move

Everybody is under pressure here. Elizabeth has planned a big party at our place in western France to welcome daughter Sophia and her husband, Ryan, into the local community. Two hundred people are scheduled to gather on the lawn.

But what’s this? We just checked the weather forecast; it’s supposed to rain!

Too late to get a tent. Too late to call it off. Oh là là!

Everything is so nice here,’ says our mother, clearly not paying attention. ‘It’s perfect…

The family is gathering. This is where the younger children grew up. It is the place they regard as home. Which is a bit strange to their father, who never expected to stay for more than a few years and has never really felt at home here. But we’ve now been here, off and on, for nearly two decades. And it looks like more will follow.

That’s both the trouble and the charm of life — you never know exactly where it will lead you.

Pushed into a Corner

On Friday, the Dow gave up another 69 points, after dropping more than 300 the day before. Gold rose by $12 an ounce.

More alarming, the price of oil is dropping — even with the problems in Russia and Iraq. This suggests the global economy is slowing. And in the US, the homebuilders are crashing…probably in anticipation of higher mortgage rates.

Janet Yellen is being pushed into a corner by the Federal Reserve’s own pronunciamientos. It has been threatening to raise interest rates when its inflation and employment targets are hit. And hit they have been. So what’s she gonna do?

Our guess is she means what she says. She is a smart woman. But she is not smart enough to see that she has been talking claptrap…and not courageous enough to admit that her career is built on it.

‘People come to think what they must think when they must think it,’ is one of our signature dicta.

To become a major establishment economist, Janet Yellen had to think that well-meaning, well-educated officials could improve the performance of a market system.

She could be a monetarist…or a Keynesian. Different strains of thought were acceptable. But she had to be some type of activist. She had to be a True Believer in the power of intervention.

And as numero uno at the Federal Reserve, she must believe, too, that its policies have prevented a depression and have helped the economy recover.

A Heavy Responsibility

As lunatic as it sounds, she now believes she guides the US economy, and indirectly, the entire economy of planet Earth, to a stability and growth that it could not achieve on its own.

A heavy responsibility, no doubt. She probably hedges it with the further belief that an economy – like a surly teenager — does not always cooperate. It doesn’t always do what it ought to do when it ought to do it.

Sometimes it even sulks…and often, it fails to get out of bed in the morning. So, if it doesn’t meet expectations, it’s not her fault!

Now, she must think she’s got things headed in the right direction. Her role is to make sure it doesn’t get off track.

If she sees any sign the ‘recovery’ has been put in danger by her attempts to normalize interest rates…she will back up. That is the history of the last seven years of Federal Reserve policy…and it is probably the best guide to the months ahead.

Almost surely, the withdrawal of QE will be accompanied by anxiety and volatility.

As economist Richard Duncan points out, the net liquidity that has been driving up asset prices, month after month, is now drying up. The financial world is used to getting a big allowance, with no strings attached. Take it away and there are bound to be tantrums.

Yellen will not panic at Friday’s 300-point drop in the Dow. But if the drops continue…and if new data show the recovery is not as mature as she had thought…she will back off. She will give in. The allowance will be reinstated.


Bill Bonner
For Markets and Money

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Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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