Firm Hand

What happens in a Democratic-Republic when the most powerful person has an agenda which seems at odds with the legislative body?

We found out today when Janet Yellen, who is not at all orange, testified before the Senate Banking Committee for the first time since … well, really since all Hell broke loose. Financial issues have largely taken a back seat since the circus came to town and the opportunity to return to such a basic issue had the wonderful air or normality to it.

That didn’t stop anyone from trying to bring in the clowns, of course. But real leaders, like Yellen, know better than to take the bait. It was delightfully boring, as all banking should be. But it still had its moments.

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A New Fed?

The annual Jackson Hole conference of the Federal Reserve starts today! If you’re a little under-enthusiastic, it’s OK. There’s a lot going on, what with the State Fair, back to school preparations, and the fact that hardly anyone cares what the Fed is up to.

Except, that is, more people all the time. The mysterious workings of the Fed have come under a lot of scrutiny lately – from left, right, and center. The most powerful bank in the world does indeed control more of our destiny than many otherwise free people would like, and that’s worrying.

The Fed knows this, of course. They also know that in an era of dysfunctional government and globalism they have more power all the time – as well as more responsibility to get it right. Will there be a new, more open Fed?  The answer, a very strong “Yes!” may surprise you.

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Careful What You Wish For

Is the Federal Reserve nothing but a tool for big banks? According to an op-ed by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), it sure looks that way. The presidential candidate and hero to millions of progressives made the case for an audit, tighter controls, and other measures to rein in the nation’s central banking system.

There are clearly problems with the Fed and it’s very mixed charters to tame inflation, encourage full employment, maintain the value of the US Dollar, and regulate banks. The more presence and power the Fed gains the more this is an important issue. But today’s “progressives” aren’t in a mood for just reform – many are in a mood to “End the Fed!”

While that position is understandable it’s horribly misguided. But it’s a great highlight for the tension inherent in not-that-subtle difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive”.  And it’s ultimately a rather irresponsible position that Sanders is taking.

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Curtain Rises on Kashkari

Who is the man behind the curtain? The selection of Neel Kashkari as the new President of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve is fascinating for a lot of reasons. It’s especially important to those of us who live in the district, of course, but this is not any ordinary position. Kaskkari is taking over for Kocherlakota, the outgoing President who resigned last June – leaving the Fed with one less relentlessly “dovish” member of the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC).

Who is this new guy? How was he chosen?

The whole process gives us a peak behind the curtain and raises a series of questions about the new, more politically active Fed. Kashkari also brings a new personality and well documented series of biases as an data-loving engineer who is, by all accounts, a genuinely nice if hard-driving guy.

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Ready for Liftoff?

Another first Friday of the month, another jobs report. By the time you read this the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly Employment Situation Summary for October may have been released diligently at 8:30AM Eastern Time on the appointed date. The stock market may be reacting and everyone will turn their attention to the Federal Reserve.

It’s a strange ritual which keeps financial writers busy. But does it mean anything?

If all goes as it should this one should really move the markets. Exactly which direction is hard to tell for a variety of reasons – but that is what will matter more than anything else if this report comes in as “good” (in quotes) as it should be.

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Bad Jobs Numbers

Last Friday the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Report came out, and it was lousy. Instead of an expected gain of 200k jobs it came in at 142k – a miss of 58k or 29%. The reaction in the financial press was swift and conclusive – there is no way the Fed can raise interest rates given this weakness. But there’s a bigger problem with the report than that.

It honestly can’t be believed.

It’s fashionable to say that the BLS cooks these reports to get the results they want and that no one should believe the government reports in general. That’s a general paranoid delusion that is utterly unreasonable all around. But the reports can’t be taken as pure gospel when they don’t come in exactly where they should be because there is no way they can possibly be as accurate as is demanded.

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Good News! It’s Good News.

Before we can call the economy “good”, we have to be in a situation where good news is taken as unvarnished good news. And that seems to have finally happened.

Janet Yellen outlined in great detail exactly why interest rates not only have to start rising by the end of the year, but why they have to go up to around 2% before the Fed is done. The market responded positively, getting another shot of good news this morning. Has the monkey of cheap money finally been scraped off their backs?

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