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As Trump pressures Powell, Wall Street gives Fed a passing grade

As President Donald Trump keeps up his attacks on the Federal Reserve’s policies, Wall Street is cautiously embracing them, giving a passing grade to the Fed’s communication since its shift in January to a “patient” approach on rate hikes.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York surveys the main Wall Street securities companies it trades with and asks them how they would grade the Fed’s communication with markets and the public since the last survey. The central bank asked for scores on a scale of one, for “ineffective,” to five, for “effective.”

Roughly two-thirds of the Wall Street companies, known as primary dealers, gave the Fed a score of four or five (more effective) in the latest survey published on Thursday, while 22 percent gave the Fed a score of one or two (less effective). The others were neutral.

The 3.4 composite of those scores is below Chairman Jerome Powell’s 3.6 average grade during his term but above the 3.2 average achieved by each of his two most recent predecessors, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, a Reuters analysis of all surveys available on the New York Fed’s website shows. (For a graphic, see tmsnrt.rs/2XawZ6T).

A separate New York Fed survey of market participants that includes large investors showed that 57 percent gave the top two effectiveness scores while a quarter gave the lowest two scores. Both surveys were conducted March 6 to 11.

The grades are important because they help the Fed gauge how well its message is getting through to financial markets. The Fed relies on its credibility with investors to influence the economy.

After raising rates four times in 2018, a majority of Fed policymakers at their latest meeting in March expected that they would leave rates in their current 2.25-2.50% range for the rest of the year due to uncertainty about how much the global economy is slowing.

A well-honed message that rates are likely to stay on hold for a while can help ease financial conditions when central banks think those conditions overly tight. But if markets find the Fed’s message confusing or not credible, they may surge or slump in ways that undermines the Fed’s impact. That was the case late last year, when markets swung sharply in response to statements by Powell widely regarded by investors as communication missteps.Continue Reading

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