On Wednesday, the minutes of the mid-December meeting of the Federal Reserves policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) were made public. They reveal that the Fed is likely to raise interest rates in March. The disclosure sent financial markets tumbling.
You wonder if these people have heard of COVID. With cases spiking and portions of the economy shutting down as workers get sick, we are on the verge of a double-dip COVID recession.
An interest rate hike in March would be the coup de grce. If anything, the economy will need more stimulus, both low rates and extended unemployment compensation benefits, not to mention Build Back Better.
Is the Fed reverting to type, now that Jay Powell is safely ensconced as chair for another four years? Yes, but its more complicated.
That meeting of the FOMC was more than three weeks ago. The minutes show that Fed staff economists were predicting accelerating economic growth, pre-surge: The information available at the time of the December 1415 meeting suggested that U.S. real GDP growth was picking up in the fourth quarter after having slowed in the third quarter.
Officials, mainly, were misdiagnosing inflation as reflecting that growth rather than supply bottlenecks. But in mid-December, the economic impact of the still-building omicron surge was not yet on the Feds radar screen.
It damned well better be now.
The just-released jobs report for December, showing only 199,000 new jobs, reflects a marked deceleration of growth, and the reference period for that report predates the worst of the omicron spike. Januarys is likely to be even worse.
Speaking of the Fed reverting to type, the Feds departing vice chair, Richard Clarida, has just amended his disclosure forms to show that his stock-trading, evidently based on privileged information, was far more serious than he initially disclosed. Clarida came under criticism when he first revealed that he had purchased shares in a stock fund on February 27, 2020, one day before Fed Chair Powell stated that the central bank was ready to cut rates to help the economy in the pandemic.
That statement sent stocks soaring. Other top Fed officials had surely been consulted and knew it was coming, since the Fed operates by consensus.
Clarida and the Fed initially claimed that his stock purchase was just a long-planned, routine portfolio rebalancing. The suspicious timing was supposedly just a coincidence.
Now Clarida admits that three days earlier, as stocks were plunging, he sold shares in the same stock fund, only to buy them back on the eve of Powells statement. The trades totaled between $1 million and $5 million.
What a lucky accident for Clarida! This insider trading on privileged information cries out for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and the SEC. Its part of the Feds own pandemic of corruption.