Fed Raising Rates …. When?

It’s been nearly a year since Janet Yellen, in her first testimony press conference after a Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC)  meeting, told the world just what she was looking for before raising the Fed Funds Rate (and everything that rises along with it). The openness was remarkable for a Fed Chair and a sign of a new era as a woman took control of what is arguably the most power job in the world.

Since that time, we have followed “Yellen’s Dashboard” with periodic updates to just just how we’re doin’. Nearly everyone agrees that interest rates will rise sometime this year, probably around June, as she has told us.  But how does that stack up against her very public criteria? It’s worth checking in with some math to see where we are with rates and what we can expect.

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Yellen’s Dashboard

How will we know when the economy is turning the corner towards real growth? Everyone has their own answer, but Fed Chair Janet Yellen told us last March what she has on  her “dashboard”. As the most powerful person in the financial world, and probably the whole world, her opinion counts more than most. With the arrival of another piece of data on where we stand right now in the second quarter of 2014 (2Q14), it’s time to check in on how we’re all doin’.

What we see is that we’re making some substantial progress, but we still have an awfully long way to go before we can say we’re close to the last time everyone felt remotely flush, which is before the arrival of what Barataria calls a “Managed Depression”  at the end of year 2000.

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Velocity and Inflation

Since 2008, the Federal Reserve has more or less printed over $3.2 Trillion in three rounds of “Quantitative Easing”, now tapering off to zero. Many have speculated that this has to result in inflation for the simple reason that there are more US Dollars out there than ever before. That’s based on the most fundamental principle of any market, supply and demand –more of these things called “Dollars” around and the value has to drop, meaning it takes more of them to make a reasonable exchange with something real.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Inflation remains less than 2% per year as it has since the financial crisis that started in 2007. How on earth can that be?

The answer is that the number of US Dollars in the world is only one part of the equation. The “velocity of money”, or the number of times they turn over in the economy, is equally important. Data since 2007 shows what every freelancer and job seeker knows – it’s a tough world out there, and people are pretty slow to let go of the dough they have.

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A More Open Fed?

There is arguably no more powerful job in the world than Chair of the Federal Reserve. When Janet Yellen took the gig in February, it was only natural for a lot of words to be written wondering what kind of leader she would be. Betting money was on more of the same, given her long tenure at the bank.

With her first press conference behind her, we do indeed have more – of the same, yes, but so much more it’s not the same. Yellen brought forward a new transparency so open that it makes the breath of fresh air that as Bernanke rather stale in comparison. Perhaps it was time for a woman, after all, as Yellen is following in the developing tradition of female leaders as no-nonsense reformers.

Sad that the market is built on nonsense, then. The reaction so far has not exactly been good.

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New Boss, Same as Old Boss

Janet Yellen completed her first day of testimony on Capitol Hill as Chair of the Federal Reserve. While the event was historic, it was remarkable mainly for how unremarkable the actual testimony was. There is a great deal of continuity in the Fed from Bernanke to Yellen, who both have very similar approaches to both policy and communication.

What was left unsaid was probably more important, however. We live in a time with a very active Fed which is taking a bigger role in the economy than any central bank in US history. But congress appears to be very comfortable with that role and very willing to let Yellen do what she does best – place a firm hand on the tiller and guide the economy as close to full speed ahead as it can chug along.

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