What if the Fed couldn’t control inflation?

Members of the Federal Reserve, the central bank responsible for pushing inflation from 8.3% to its target of around 2%, are now raising interest rates in an attempt to cool the economy.

That’s okay: the medicine doesn’t have to go down easy if it works fast and well. But inflation rates have risen sharply since August 2021 and have been outside the normal range of 2% to 4% for a full year. Today, growing distrust of the Fed’s abilities and the belief that it has become entangled in a policy error has raised the question: what if the Fed fails to rein in inflation and we’re stuck in a long-term cycle of high growth? inflation and recession?
Why is this important: Record inflation has created a crisis on several levels. At its core, it represents a political crisis for Democrats defending their crunch majority in Congress, and a crisis of faith for economists who have misjudged the persistence and significance of the price hike as a “transitional” blow. and may have missed their chance to get ahead of the curve.
More importantly, it’s a crisis for the US portfolio. The average price of a gallon of gas topped $4 in all 50 states for the first time ever. Food prices were 9.4% higher in April 2022 than in April 2021, the largest annual increase in 41 years. Americans have apparently gone into survival mode: Target and Walmart reported last week that discretionary spending is shrinking as customers struggle to cover basic necessities like food, fuel and shelter.
This is different: The Federal Reserve is likely borrowing ideas from its playbook of 1994, the last time the central bank successfully raised interest rates and executed a soft landing. But things are different now. We are facing a severe labor shortage caused by baby boomers ready to leave the labor market, a significantly reduced labor force participation rate due to the pandemic and a slowdown in productivity. . Globalization is retreating as the pandemic and war in Ukraine have led to significant energy price shocks and supply chain disruptions.

“These are uncharted waters for all of us,” said Liz Young, head of investment strategy at SoFi. “Inflation hasn’t been this high since the year I was born.” The economy will recover, she said, but it will be a “slow burn”. Markets will continue to fall and prices will stay high for a while, she added: “I think we might have to stay there for a little while. I don’t know if we’ll bounce back very quickly.”

Confidence in the central bank is also lagging. Investors are calling for a three-quarter point rate hike at the end of the Fed’s June meeting, despite assurances from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that such a big hike is not on the cards. Even former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank erred in its approach to tackling inflation, which has been high for 40 years.

Some of the lack of trust stems from the rise of social media and wide-ranging, fast-paced communications –—and has nothing to do with what’s happening at the central bank, said Howard Silverblatt, senior analyst at indices at S&P Dow Jones Indices. A continuous, real-time feed of news and analysts makes it easier to judge Fed actions, not results.

“You know them so much better now,” Silverblatt said. “You see every nook and cranny.”

Timing is everything: Inflation rates don’t always go down. Just look at the 1970s when the US economy suffered three recessions in which the underlying inflation problem never went away.

“Stagflation is probably the worst word in the vocabulary for financial markets because it’s the worst of both worlds. Inflation remains high and the economy is slowing down,” said Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management. “I think we’re feeling a whiff of stagflation now.”

But the ghost of the 1970s lingers in the minds of all Fed governors, and they’ve said they’ll increase their hawkishness no matter what that means for markets and the economy.

“The process of reducing inflation to 2% will also involve some pain, but ultimately the most painful thing would be if we failed to cope with it and inflation had to take root in the world. economy at high levels, and we know what it’s like,” Powell said in a recent Marketplace interview.

Grohowski says he sees inflation persisting for the rest of this year and part of next, but is not yet entrenched in the economy and will decline by 2023.

Yet the sentiment is not the same for investors and consumers. Among economists and analysts, Grohowski said, “there is an expectation that there will be some relief and that we are most likely experiencing a spike in inflation.” But consumers fear that current inflation rates will not hold for much longer.

They may not be wrong. While prices for some goods will fall rapidly, energy and housing prices will likely remain high for some time, the Fed said.

We don’t think inflation is entrenched,” Grohowski said. “But we admit there are concerns because some parts of inflation are more rigid than most economists and even the Fed does. had planned.”

Davos is back and the world has changed

The World Economic Forum – which combines high-level panels and flashy parties – is back in person in Davos, Switzerland, for the first time in two years. The conference aims to bring together important people to tackle pressing issues such as inequality, climate change, the future of technology and geopolitical conflict. But the logic behind inviting some of the richest people on the planet to solve these problems from a beach resort seems even more fragile these days.

Billionaires have added $5 trillion to their fortunes during the pandemic, according to an Oxfam report published in January. The 10 richest men in the world have seen their collective wealth more than double. Meanwhile, tens of millions more people around the world have been pushed into extreme poverty.

The event takes place against the backdrop of the worst cost of living crisis in decades in developed economies and in many developing economies. Soaring food and fuel prices are already causing hunger and hardship, stoking instability, triggering protests and emboldening political insurgents.

The main event is expected to be a speech on Monday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is expected to participate via video conference. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are also expected to deliver speeches later in the week, which will be considered as EU countries struggle to agree on a formal oil embargo. against Russia.

Following

Monday: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George speaks; Zoom Video Communications Earnings,

Tuesday: April new home sales; Earnings from Intuit, AutoZone, Best Buy, Toll Brothers, Petco and Nordstrom

Wednesday: April Core Durable Goods Orders, FOMC Minutes, Weekly Crude Oil Inventories; Profits from NVIDIA Corporation, Williams-Sonoma and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Thusday: Q1 GDP (second estimate), initial UI claims, April pending home sales; Earnings from Alibaba, Costco, Dollar General and Dollar Tree

Friday: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President and FOMC Voting Member James Bullard speaks

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