Wall Street received something it had been demanding for months on Wednesday— a Federal Reserve interest rate cut.
However, investors welcomed the percentage-point cut of the central bank with a combination of skepticism and open hostility. The decision by the Fed to introduce an “insurance policy” cut to guard against a deeper downturn effectively sent reeling economies, with the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq all tumbling in the aftermath of the decision.
The central bank is navigating various shoals, including silent inflation, an economy still firing on most cylinders, Washington’s political pressure, and the need to maintain policy alternatives in case of a deeper downturn. The mixture of conflicting impulses resulted in economists to question the intentions of the Fed significantly.
One of the most vocal was the economist Chris Rupkey of the MUFG-Union Bank, who hammered the FOMC to cut interest rates with such low unemployment and the economy still growing.
Rupkey blasted the central bank for bowing to President Donald Trump’s pressure, who has severely criticized Fed policy while publicly agitating for reduced prices.
“Kudos to the Trump economics team to get the president’s point of perspective across and Fed officials to act on it,” said Rupkey, adding sarcastically: “What’s next, come back to the gold standard?” Calling the rate reduction ‘unwise,’ Rupkey compared the rate reduction to medieval medical therapy— and advised investors may still regret the choice.
“Today’s choice by the Fed is like the days when physicians fought to cure their patients,” Rupkey said.
“Probably they are proud of themselves, I believe, but they should be more embarrassed. Today, with each cut in future, the Federal Reserve has thrown away its autonomy and will gradually eliminate its economic significance forever,” he added.
The response of Wall Street partially reflected deception in what some economists believed might be a 50-point cut or at least the opening shot of a few more cuts to come. However, after Powell suggested that Wednesday’s decision was not necessarily the start of a trend, the selloff deepened.
The blended message underlined the Fed’s difficult equilibrium as it attempts to handle market expectations within a dual mandate to contain inflation and unemployment. Some commentators characterize it as a “third mandate” that could return to haunt policymakers if things get worse.
“Central bankers are still cautious of the last recession,” said Candice Bangsund, a portfolio manager at Fiera Capital, who has more than $108 billion in assets. “To talk about four more tariff reductions by 2020, seems unjustified, considering the sound financial background,” Bangsund added. “There is a long-term problem to get back on track. We need greater prices so we have some ammunition when the next recession goes along.”
The Fed would be aiming, under ordinary conditions, to support a smooth job market or slower development. Although the economy has slowed, consumer expenditure is healthy, growth is above 2%, and unemployment stays comfortably below 4%, implying almost full jobs.
“Although the situation for’ insurance’ appears to be somewhat less convincing, some Fed representatives also provided an’ insurance’ rationale for today’s cut,” said John Bellows, a portfolio manager at Western Asset.