Is this a soft landing or the start of a recession?
Champion of Truth
“On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates another quarter point in regulators’ ongoing bid to reduce inflation. It’s a move that marks the Fed’s 10th straight rate hike and it’s one that’s proven contentious given fears that it could slow the economy too much.
The rate hike — which puts the Fed’s benchmark rate between 5 to 5.25 percent — comes as another mid-size bank, First Republic Bank, failed and was later acquired by JPMorgan Chase, becoming the second-largest bank failure in US history. The Fed favors the hike because it’s continuing to fight inflation, which has dipped substantially in the last year. At 5 percent, inflation is still higher than the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent.
Economists and experts who oppose raising rates, however, say inflation is already showing signs of slowing, and that additional rate increases could add even more challenges for small businesses and lead to a harmful uptick in unemployment.”
“many Fed watchers say some of the root causes of inflation lie outside the central bank’s control, like the U.S. labor shortage, global supply chain snags and Russia’s war on Ukraine. They’re raising concern that higher rates could crimp growth without leading to much relief on prices — a point that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has hammered away at Powell for months.”
“Markets are expecting rates to rise nearly 2 more percentage points by the end of the year. That would bring them to a level that is more normal by historical standards — the Fed’s main borrowing rate would sit above 4 percent — but is staggeringly high compared to the near-zero rates that have mostly prevailed for more than a decade.”
“China has recruited Federal Reserve economists for more than a decade to share sensitive and confidential information about U.S. economic policymaking in a bid to gain influence over the central bank, a Senate Republican charged in a report Tuesday.
The report from Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the top GOP lawmaker on the Homeland Security committee, detailed what Senate investigators called “long-running and brazen actions by Chinese officials and certain Federal Reserve employees” to replicate the playbook China has used to infiltrate the science and technology sectors. It involves recruiting industry experts to provide proprietary information or research in exchange for monetary benefits or other incentives, it said.
The Fed has failed to effectively combat the threat and doesn’t have sufficient expertise in counterintelligence or adequate policies to thwart China’s influence campaign, which includes efforts to obtain information about interest-rate decisions, the report concluded. It calls on Congress to enact bipartisan legislation that would enhance security around federally funded research, among other measures.”
“In 1981, the US was in the midst of a second brutal stint of double-digit inflation in less than a decade. Gas prices were through the roof; mortgage rates were sky-high, keeping many middle-class people from being able to buy homes. The job market was weak, too, with unemployment above 7 percent. The nation was in full crisis.
The crisis would end, and most economists give credit for ending it to Paul Volcker, the chair of the Federal Reserve. Volcker got inflation under control through the economic equivalent of chemotherapy: He engineered two massive, but brief, recessions, to slash spending and force inflation down. By the end of the 1980s, inflation was ebbing and the economy was booming.
The 2022 inflation is not as bad as the inflation of 1978-1982 — but it’s the worst inflation the US has experienced in decades. The Federal Reserve is, accordingly, raising interest rates aggressively, as Volcker did. It’s not trying to engineer a recession, but its actions could cause one as an unintended consequence. And if inflation continues to be a major problem, demands for an even more aggressive Volcker-style response will grow.
A rerun of the Volcker shock or something like it is a real possibility, if not a likelihood. Which makes understanding what the first one entailed”
“As the greatest inflation spike of the last 50 years occurs, the utter failure of economists, their models, and many pundits to foresee what was coming is worth highlighting. Of course, the biggest malfunction in the story was that of the Federal Reserve itself, which had a clear mandate to keep prices stable and seems surprised by their lack of stability.
It’s no understatement to say that the Fed failed to properly anticipate the inflation surge. On Feb. 8, 2021, Raphael Bostic, the president of the Atlanta branch of the Fed, said, “I’m really not expecting us to see a spike in inflation that is very robust in the next 12 months or so.” A few days later, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren echoed this sentiment, noting that he would be “surprised” to see broad-based inflation sustained at a level of two percent before the end of 2022.
As the saying goes, problems often start at the top. When testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in February 2021, Fed Chair Jerome Powell predicted that it might take more than three years to hit the two percent inflation goal.
Around the summer of 2021, inflation became hard to ignore. Yet Fed officials insisted that it wasn’t yet time to roll back their temporary policies because they weren’t responsible for the rise in prices. The main villain was identified as supply-chain restraints. Once resolved, we were told, inflation would prove to be transitory. Testifying in June of last year before a House subcommittee, Powell said:
“If you look…at the categories where these prices are really going up, you’ll see that it tends to be areas that are directly affected by the reopening. That’s something that we’ll go through over a period…then be over. And it should not leave much of a mark on the ongoing inflation process.”
During a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last August, Powell again echoed this sentiment. He also noted that “longer-term inflation expectations have moved much less than actual inflation or near-term expectations, suggesting that households, businesses, and market participants also believe that current high inflation readings are likely to prove transitory.”
But as Hoover Institution economist John Cochrane has been reminding us all along, long-term inflation expectations are notoriously poor predictors of inflation. Sadly, few listened, and team “transitory” was born.”