Jul 17, 2019

Jerome Powell leans into greater openness

Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

In one of his final speeches before a big policy meeting this month, Fed Chair Jerome Powell gave another hint that a rate cut is coming and stressed the importance of communicating frankly with the public.

Why it matters: The financial markets may have backed Powell into a corner to cut interest rates, but these days Main Street has his ear, too.

  • In a novel series of public forums held the past few months, community leaders across the country have told Fed officials about the unevenness of the economic recovery.
  • Since the latest "Fed Listens" event in Chicago, Powell has referenced this grassroots feedback in nearly every single public appearance to underscore the importance of extending the record-long economic recovery.

What he's saying:

Gone are the days when the Federal Reserve Chair could joke, as my predecessor Alan Greenspan did, "If I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I said." Central banks must speak to Main Street, as well as Wall Street, in ways we have not in the past, and Main Street is listening and engaged.
— Powell's speech Tuesday at G7 Bretton Woods in Paris

The big picture: Powell, who is more plainspoken than his predecessors, has emphasized the importance of forthright communication since he took the helm of the Fed. He has doubled the number of post-policy meeting press conferences, and, under his direction, the Fed is for the first time publicly reviewing the way it communicates — among other things — to carry out its mandates.

  • Powell has picked up on "the strong sense of transparency" carried out by Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, former Fed economist Jeffrey Bergstrand tells Axios.
  • Yes, but: Powell hasn’t been without his own communication missteps. He "gives a little bit more color than his predecessors, and sometimes that can be risky," says Michael Reynolds of investment management firm Glenmede Trust. "There were slip-ups like, 'we're a long way from neutral.'"

The bottom line: In the midst of the longest expansion on record, the central bank is about to make a move that is normally done only in dire economic situations. This will leave the Fed with less flexibility if a recession does come — setting up a situation in which communication is more important than ever.

  • "Powell has done a good job conveying they are pursuing a little bit of insurance," says Bergstrand.

Go deeper: The case for a Fed rate cut

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Fed cuts interest rates for the first time since 2008

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In its biggest decision since 2015, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would slash its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point, as expected, in an effort to extend the economic boom and boost weak inflation.

Between the lines: Speaking to reporters at a press conference following the decision, Fed Chair Jerome Powell re-adjusted the market‘s expectations of a series of more rate cuts by the end of the year. Stocks dropped sharply during the press conference, but after regaining some ground, the Dow finished down more than 300 points, while the S&P fell 1.19% and the Nasdaq dropped 1.1%.

Go deeperArrowJul 31, 2019

Alan Greenspan backs a Fed rate cut

Alan Greenspan. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan endorsed the central bank's expected rate cut at this month's FOMC meeting during an interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Current Fed Chair Jerome Powell has shown admiration for Greenspan and getting his stamp of approval likely means a rate cut for July is a lock. Powell also could feel emboldened to adopt an even more dovish stance, acquiescing to the market's expectation of 75 basis points of cuts within the next year.

Go deeperArrowJul 25, 2019

Jay Powell's constraints

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Jay Powell did his best impression this week of a Fed chair making his own data-driven decisions about where he should set short-term interest rates. The reality, however, is that the markets and the president are giving him very little choice.

Driving the news: Powell cut interest rates on Wednesday — the first time the Fed has done so in over a decade. In doing so, he effectively fulfilled a prophecy that the fixed-income markets (and even the stock market) had been making for all of 2019. They saw the rate cut coming long before the Fed was willing to admit it, and they were right all along.

Go deeperArrowAug 4, 2019