Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fed’s all in and throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure

"The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability"

Stock and bond markets are celebrating in the wake of an FOMC statement that exceeded nearly all expectations for a substantial easing of policy today. At the time of this writing, the Dow is up about 340 points, and the 10-Yr Treasury yield has plunged to 2.36 percent from 2.50 percent yesterday. Throwing all caution to the wind, the Fed is betting that drastic rate cuts are needed immediately in order to support consumer and business borrowing in the face of a rapidly deteriorating economy and the specter of deflationary forces afoot. Such drastic measures only highlight the scale and scope of the current economic and financial crisis that still lies ahead. The Fed is now pulling nearly all its policy levers and only time will tell if it is pushing on a string, or if monetary policy still has a viable channel in which to operate.

For the first time in its history the Fed has decided to establish a target range for the Fed funds rate of between zero and 0.25 percent, effectively making 0.25 percent its interest rate ceiling. This is also an admission that the Fed has been having trouble maintaining its target as massive injections of about $1.0 trillion into various credit facilities, bank re-capitalization, and the payment of interest on bank reserves make an explicit target nearly impossible to achieve. The movement to a target range also rightly puts the focus of additional policy actions on the scope and scale of outright purchases of MBS, and agency debt. The committee is also exploring the potential benefits of purchasing longer-term Treasury securities as well.

Moreover, the FOMC signaled that they expect to maintain an exceptionally low fed funds rate target of some time. This signal is designed to push longer-term Treasury yields even lower, and from today’s action it seems to have worked.

The FOMC statement begins by describing an economy mired in a deepening recession, with little prospect for near-term relief, stating that labor market conditions have deteriorated, and consumer spending, business investment, and industrial production have declined. The Fed’s view of credit market conditions has not improved, and their outlook for the economy has weakened further.

Finally, the Fed doesn’t mention the prospect of deflation in the statement, but did highlight the prospect for inflation to moderate further in the coming quarters.

Expect further expansion and utilization of the Fed’s existing credit facilities, as well as the addition of new ones in 2009 as the Fed moves further down the path of quantitative easing.

Source: Scott A. Anderson, Ph.D.
Senior Economist, Wells Fargo Economics