Jul 11, 2019

A Fed fight may be brewing over interest rate cuts

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks to an aide. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

The market got the signal loud and clear from Fed Chair Jerome Powell yesterday — an interest rate cut is coming in July — but that rate cut may push forward tensions within the central bank.

What's happening: At June's meeting, the Fed delivered the first non-unanimous rate decision of Powell's tenure, and judging by the minutes of the FOMC meeting released Wednesday, there is disagreement among members about whether a cut next month is warranted.

  • Several FOMC members "didn't see a strong rate-cut case" and a few saw a rate cut as a risk that could create "financial imbalances" in the economy, the minutes showed.

The intrigue: Bank of America-Merrill Lynch research analysts say they're now anticipating 3 more rate cuts this year, 1 at each of the Fed's next 3 meetings. But they're also expecting some pushback from members who have been on board with the pivot to "patience," but may not be as amenable to cuts.

  • "The FOMC is not in agreement," BAML's research team said in a Wednesday note to clients. "We will likely see a number of hawkish dissents at the upcoming meeting (potentially as many as three)."

Between the lines: Powell is well respected by the market and his colleagues on the Fed, but he does not hold the sway of decorated economists like his predecessors Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan.

  • So far, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard has been the only voting member of the Fed's rate-setting committee to formally break with Powell. But if other, more influential, members of the committee begin to oppose him, it may foment larger rebellion.

The bottom line: The Fed's most recent dot plot showed a growing schism among FOMC voters about whether to hold rates steady or cut. For now, the expectation is that Powell's vision will win out, but he looks to be losing support, and a few dissents at July's meeting may be just the beginning.

Go deeper: The case for a Fed rate cut

Go deeper