Dec 19, 2018

The Fed gets the Trump treatment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's never been a Federal Reserve interest-rate decision quite like this, with the central bank facing public criticism from the president and a whipsawing stock market.

Why it matters: Market watchers agree that one of the greatest threats to the smoking economy is a misjudgment by the Fed on how to manage the record-breaking economic expansion. Trump's response to any rate hike is likely to be angry, losing the Fed's precious credibility among the president's supporters.

Later today, Jerome Powell will likely announce the fourth rate hike since he took over the Fed in February. The new target rate, 2.25–2.50%, will be the highest in a decade.

Flashback: Trump slammed Powell hours after the Fed announced a rate hike in September.

  • No other president has commented on monetary policy as much as Trump. Don't be surprised if there's a similar reaction from him this time.
  • Powell has taken pains to emphasize that his decisions are data-dependent. Trump, by contrast, would rather trust his gut on monetary policy, telling Powell yesterday to ignore "meaningless numbers" and "feel the market."

After Powell softened his rate hike stance last month, some economists expect a "dovish hike" — or a rate hike coupled with a more cautious tone about the economy, hinting that the Fed may hike rates fewer times in 2019 than previously indicated.

  • This is the best-case scenario for the stock market, which responds positively to a less aggressive Fed.

The odds: There is a roughly 31% chance that the Fed doesn't raise rates at all. That wouldn't necessarily be better news than a "dovish hike."

  • A rate pause would jeopardize the Fed‘s credibility. It would leave the central bank wide open for a victory lap from Trump and raise questions about whether the Fed has become politicized.
  • The move could also spook the markets. "Investors would assume the Fed had knowledge of some impending crisis about which they are unaware," says Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research.

The bottom line: No other Fed chairman has faced a challenge like the one Powell is facing. When Powell fields questions from reporters after the policy decision this afternoon, expect him to defend the Fed's political independence, maintain an upbeat (but not too upbeat) tone about the economy, and assure investors the Fed is not on a fixed path to hike interest rates even more.

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Top Trump ally sounds 2020 election alarm over coronavirus response

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

There is growing concern among top conservative leaders that the Trump administration isn't addressing the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus, several sources tell Axios. One top adviser said if the recovery is bungled it could cost President Trump the election.

What we're hearing: "The next 4-8 weeks is really going to decide whether Trump gets reelected," Stephen Moore, Trump's former nominee for the Federal Reserve board, told Axios. If the administration mishandles its economic recovery efforts, he said, Trump is "in big trouble."

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,600,427 — Total deaths: 95,506 — Total recoveries: 354,006Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 465,329 — Total deaths: 16,513 — Total recoveries: 25,410Map.
  3. Public health latest: U.S. has expelled thousands of migrants under a CDC public health orderDr. Anthony Fauci said social distancing could reduce the U.S. death toll to 60,000.
  4. Business latest: The Fed will lend up to $2.3 trillion for businesses, state and city governments — After another 6.6 million jobless claims, here's how to understand the scale of American job decimation.
  5. 2020 latest: Top conservative leaders are concerned the Trump administration isn't addressing the virus' long-term economic impact.
  6. States latest: FEMA has asked governors to decide if they want testing sites to be under state or federal control.
  7. World latest: Lockdowns have led to a decline in murders in some of the world's most violent countries — Boris Johnson is moved out of the ICU but remains in hospital with coronavirus.
  8. In Congress: Senate in stalemate over additional funding for small business relief program.
  9. 1 SNL thing: "Saturday Night Live" will return this weekend in a remotely produced episode.
  10. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredPets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions

Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

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