Once again the Fed’s bite has failed to live up to its bark. Despite months of expectations that it would finally raise rates for the first time since 2006, the Fed continued to sit on its hands while pointing to some unspecified date in the future when all the economic and financial stars will align in a way that makes a 25 basis point increase appropriate. Am I the only one getting bored by the repetition?
Just like it has in prior statements, the Fed’s Open Market Committee painted a picture of a stable and growing economy that was just about ready for a tightening cycle to begin. Its decision to hold off for now was positioned as a temporary concession to largely overseas developments. But the Fed, and the rest of the economic establishment for that matter, continues to ignore the steady torrent of negative data that reveals a slowing economy. Based on the manufacturing, business investment, productivity, and consumer confidence numbers, the Fed could be preparing a fresh round of stimulus, not readying its first economic sedative in nine years.
Today’s surprisingly dovish statement was notable for the introduction of “international developments” as an ongoing input into the Fed’s rate deliberation process. To many, this refers to the current uncertainty in China. But, in reality, this shift offers the Fed a gallery of new excuses to choose from to explain away its failure to raise rates down the road. Now weakness at home and abroad is sufficient to keep the Fed on the sidelines. The last thing we needed was more excuses.
As I have maintained continuously, rate hike talk from the Fed is just a bluff to disguise its inability to tighten, as even small increases could be sufficient to prick the biggest bubble it has ever inflated. It is no coincidence that the stunning 170% increase in the Dow Jones, that occurred between March 2009 and the end of 2014, happened while the Fed was stimulating the economy almost continuously with QE, and that the rally came to an abrupt end when the QE stopped in December 2014. The recent 10% correction on Wall Street confirms to me just how sensitive the markets remain to the prospect of any rates higher than zero.
When the year began, opinion was divided between those who thought the Fed would move in March, and those who thought it wouldn’t happen until June. When June came and went, September became the odds-on favorite. Now those same experts are once again divided between December and sometime in 2016. When will these “experts” finally connect the real dots and discover that the monetary medicine that the Fed has doused over the economy since 2008 has only created a weak and utterly dependent economy. A rate hike is supposed to be a signal that the economy has a clean bill of health. But as the patient fails to recover, another dose of QE will be just what the doctor orders.