- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Federal Reserve cut its key interest rate by a quarter point Wednesday, the first reduction since 2008 and a move with implications for the reelection campaign of President Trump, who was pushing the central bank for a larger cut to spur stronger growth.

Facing the pressure from Mr. Trump and heavy market expectations, the Federal Open Market Committee dropped the target range for its overnight lending rate to 2% from 2.25% despite the healthy economy.

The Fed said it was taking the action to cushion the U.S. economy against a global slowdown, and it decided to stop reducing its $3.8 trillion asset portfolio two months earlier than planned.

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The president said Fed Chairman Jerome Powell “as usual, let us down.”

“What the Market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, The European Union and other countries around the world,” Mr. Trump tweeted after markets closed sharply down.

The president said Mr. Powell is at least “ending quantitative tightening, which shouldn’t have started in the first place — no inflation. We are winning anyway, but I am certainly not getting much help from the Federal Reserve!”

Mr. Powell said the president had no impact on the decisions.

“We never take into account political considerations,” he told reporters. “There’s no place in our discussions for that. We also don’t conduct monetary policy in order to prove our independence.”

But the president likely did affect the Fed’s thinking, albeit not in the most flattering way. His trade wars with China and the European Union have contributed to global economic tensions and were cited by the central bank as one of three reasons it lowered the rate. Mr. Powell said trade tensions are having “a significant effect” on world markets.

“Trade policy uncertainty has been more elevated than we anticipated,” the central bank’s chairman said. “It is a factor that we have to kind of assess in a new way.”

The president has criticized the Fed and Mr. Powell repeatedly for raising rates four times last year, arguing that the moves have prevented the U.S. economy from growing at a higher rate. Just a day before the Fed’s decision, Mr. Trump said the central bank had made a mistake raising rates and was “often wrong.”

Mr. Trump, who is banking on continued strong growth to propel him to reelection, has nominated two candidates for the Fed’s board of governors who have spoken in favor of rate cuts.

The Fed’s decision will have a broad impact on consumers by lowering mortgage payments, credit card bills, auto loans and other borrowing costs.

While the Fed moved in the direction that the president has been urging, Mr. Trump had called for a “large cut” in interest rates rather than the modest one announced Wednesday.

The quarter-point rate cut was widely expected on Wall Street, but markets dropped sharply after the announcement, indicating that some had anticipated a larger reduction.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 333 points, or 1.23%, to close at 26,864 points. The Nasdaq composite and S&P 500 indexes also fell more than 1%. It was the biggest drop for stock markets in two months.

Mr. Powell called the rate cut a “midterm policy adjustment,” raising speculation that the Fed is not starting an easing cycle. The hope of further rate cuts pushed stock markets to record highs this summer.

The rate cut is “not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts,” said Mr. Powell, arguing that such a course is needed only when the economy is experiencing serious problems.

But the central bank left the door open for further rate cuts, saying it “will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.”

The Fed said in its policy statement that monetary easing was justified by uncertainties related to weakness in the global economy, trade tensions and inflation running below target levels.

“In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 2-2.25%,” the Federal Open Market Committee said.

The committee called current growth “moderate” and said the labor market is “strong,” but it decided to lower the rate anyway.

“The performance of the economy has been reasonably good,” Mr. Powell said. “The outlook is also good.” He said the Fed has been “monitoring weakening global growth” and that the central bank’s actions are “a continuation of what we’ve been doing all year.”

“It will lower borrowing costs, and it will work,” he said. “Growth in the first half of this year is about the same as it was in all of ‘18. I think in a way that’s monetary policy working.”

Eight of 10 Fed officials voted for lowering the short-term benchmark rate, while two officials dissented, preferring to hold rates steady.

The Fed now has essentially taken back its December rate increase, which the president criticized for holding back the economy from more robust growth. The unemployment rate was 3.7% in June, the lowest in nearly a half-century.

The economy, bolstered by strong consumer spending, grew in the second quarter at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.1%. But among the concerns has been manufacturing, which has slowed after two years of resurgence under Mr. Trump.

The government will report the unemployment rate for July on Friday.

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