As usual, markets were hyper-focused on the exact timing of interest rate liftoff. While it’s clear that rates are very likely to rise before the end of the year, the debate continues over whether September or December will carry the day.
Judging from the minutes, I personally have the feeling that the Fed doesn’t really know because the voting members themselves are split. Remember, while these folks are brilliant economists, they’re not sure what to do either because the future is inherently uncertain.
They see the same things that we do:
- The job market is better, but could be a lot better still.
- Inflation is too low and it’s unclear whether it will reach the two percent target, especially with such a strong dollar and weak commodity prices.
- Growth is tepid and is at risk due to overseas developments (China is a risk, while Greece and Puerto Rico are not in their view).
The question in my mind is not when they actually raise rates (more on that in a minute), but whether or not they appear united or divided when the time comes.
I hope they can coalesce around a decision to preserve their credibility. If they continue to hem and haw, I think they will look bad, which is bad because we need the Fed to be credible (and they don’t have a spotless reputation as it is).
My favorite quote on the subject comes from former Fed governor Larry Meyer, a former Wash U. professor and founder of the highly regarded forecasting firm, Macroeconomic Advisors.
He says, ‘what are you worrying about, September or December? It doesn’t matter. Just pull the trigger.’