The facts behind Trump’s push for the Fed to cut rates

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 21:11:55-04

President Donald Trump renewed his criticism of the Federal Reserve on Monday, tweeting that its decision not to cut interest rates is undermining the US economy and that the central bank is acting like a “stubborn child” for refusing to pursue easy money policies.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the US economy would take off like a “rocket ship” if the Fed would only listen to him by cutting rates and stopping its plans to wind down a 2008 financial crisis stimulus program.

Trump tweeted that the month of June was on course to be one of the best months in US history, “despite a Federal Reserve that doesn’t know what it is doing.”

“Think of what it could have been if the Fed had gotten it right,” Trump tweeted. “Thousands of points higher on the Dow, and GDP in the 4’s or even 5’s. Now they stick, like a stubborn child, when we need rates cuts, & easing, to make up for what other countries are doing against us. Blew it!”

Facts First: While the Federal Reserve voted in favor of holding interest rates steady at its latest meeting last week, policy makers simultaneously signaled plans to potentially cut rates at least once, if not twice, this year due in part to rising tensions over Trump’s trade war with China.

Since last year, Trump’s choice to lead the Fed, Jerome Powell, has had to move at lightning speed, going from forecasting a steady increase in interest rates to indefinitely keeping rates steady to now raising the prospect of making a cut as early as July.

The central bank has had to exert greater flexibility as it contends with injections of economic uncertainty triggered by the Trump administration’s trade policies, a slowing global economy, and inflation that has more recently moved stubbornly in the wrong direction.

While some economists disagreed with the Fed’s decision to raise rates last December, many have backed Powell’s approach to wait for further information about the US economy before moving rates in either direction in 2019 in order to keep inflation and employment levels near their targets.

To help juice the US economy, Trump has also repeatedly called for loose monetary policy — or quantitative easing — even though he routinely criticized the Fed under President Barack Obama for holding down interest rates and swelling the Fed’s balance sheet by purchasing government bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

No president can control how the Fed sets its interest rate policy given that it is an independent institution.

The Fed built up more than a $4 trillion dollar balance sheet to help the US economy recover from the 2008 financial crisis. But in 2017, the Fed started allowing those securities to mature as the US economy gradually improved.

In March, Powell telegraphed the Fed’s plans to stop shrinking its balance sheet in May and halt the unwinding completely by the end of September, thus bringing an end to the approach.

Rarely has a president put so much public political pressure on the Fed, whose interest rate policies affect the prices of mortgages, credit cards, and other borrowing. Since he named him to a four-year term in November 2017, Trump has already gone so far as to threaten firing Powell.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump denied plans to demote Powell from his role as chairman, but said he’d “be able to do that if I wanted.”

“I’m not happy with his actions,” said Trump referring to Powell. “No, I don’t think he’s done a good job.”

Powell has sought to distance himself from Trump’s criticism, saying the Fed doesn’t consider politics in its policy decisions and he has no plans to leave before his term expires in 2022.

“I think the law is clear that I have a four-year term and I intended to serve it,” Powell said last Wednesday at a press conference.