Prior to December 1, the Fed had widely broadcast that it intended to raise it benchmark rate 3 more times in 2019. At the December meeting, they lowered that to 2 times in 2019. In January after the horrid December stock market fall, the Fed changed once again, removing expectations of further rate increases.
The Fed has claimed to be data-dependent and the major economic data points have been indicating slowing growth for most of 2018, and more so since Q2 2018. The Fed may have realized it overtightened, having raised the Wu-Xia Federal Funds Shadow Rate (Atlanta FRB) by more than 5%. This was the fastest rate of increase in almost 40 years.
Now the Fed’s balance sheet normalization plan is being questioned and pundits are calling for an early cessation. In November 2017 the median targeted estimate for the Fed’s balance sheet was just under $3 trillion. The balance sheet peaked at $4.5 trillion and is currently a tick under $4T. At the beginning of 2008 it was $800 billion.
So, from a target Fed Funds rate of 3% and Fed balance sheet of $2.75T, to a ‘normalized’ rate of 2.25% and a Fed balance sheet of $4 trillion. The last few recessions we have seen the Fed raise rates right into economic weakness, only to cease then ease as the recession begins. With that kind of track record its no wonder people believe the Fed to either be behind the ball, or the outright cause of recessions.
The irony is that the US may have crossed the Rubicon regarding diminishing returns from cheap credit (low rates) aka velocity of money. While over the past 40 years we have lowered the cost of credit to induce consumption, each recession we must lower the rate below the previous recession lows. And while we ramp up credit expansion to boost the economy (borrowing more and spending more today) each time, we are getting less and less growth for each dollar borrowed/spent (velocity continues to decrease). And when there is low velocity, in order to create growth, exponentially larger amounts of money (credit) are required.
I have seen a few reports discussing the idea that low rates decrease future potential growth. Essentially low rates fail to attract capital, reducing investment, reducing future productivity gains which reduces overall growth.
We have seen the Fed essentially stop tightening (balance sheet runoff should continue to at least this summer) the next step will be for the Fed to ease again, indicating a recession has begun.