Must-Read: But being “behind the cycle” is good, no? On a lee shore you need more sea room, lest the wind strengthen, no?

Tim Duy: FOMC Minutes and More: “The Fed may be turning toward my long-favored policy position…

…the best chance they have of lifting off from the zero bound is letting the economy run hot enough that inflation becomes a genuine concern. That means following the cycle, not trying to lead it. And I would argue that if the recession scare is just that, a scare, they are almost certainly going to fall behind the curve. The unemployment rate is below 5 percent and wage pressures are rising. The economy is already closing in on full-employment. If we don’t have a recession, then how much further along will the economy be by the time the Fed deems they are sufficiently confident in the economy that they can resume raising rates? And note the importance of clearly progress on inflation….

Bullard noted that the FOMC has repeatedly stated in official communication and public commentary that future monetary policy adjustments are data dependent. He then addressed the possibility that the financial markets may not believe this since the SEP may be unintentionally communicating a version of the 2004-2006 normalization cycle, which appeared to be mechanical…. You might forgive market participants for believing that the SEP infers some calendar-based guidance when Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer says things like:

WELL, WE WATCH WHAT THE MARKET THINKS, BUT WE CAN’T BE LED BY WHAT THE MARKET THINKS. WE’VE GOT TO MAKE OUR OWN ANALYSIS. WE MAKE OUR OWN ANALYSIS AND OUR ANALYSIS SAYS THAT THE MARKET IS UNDERESTIMATING WHERE WE ARE GOING TO BE. YOU KNOW, YOU CAN’T RULE OUT THAT THERE IS SOME PROBABILITY THEY ARE RIGHT BECAUSE THERE’S UNCERTAINTY. BUT WE THINK THAT THEY ARE TOO LOW. 

Saying the markets are wrong implies that the policy direction is fairly rigid. In any event, I am not confident there is yet much support for Bullard’s position…. Bullard has also gone full-dove. He remembered that he thought inflation expectations were supposed to be important, and the decline in 5-year, 5-year forward expectations has him spooked. And he thinks that the excess air has been released from financial markets, so his fears of asset bubbles has eased. Hence, the Fed can easily pause now….

Bottom Line: The Fed is on hold, stuck in risk management mode until the skies clear. If you are in the ‘recession’ camp, the path forward is obvious. The Fed cuts back to zero, drags its heals on more QE, and fumbles around as they try to figure out if negative rates are a good or bad thing. Not pretty. But if you are in the ‘no recession’ camp, it’s worth thinking about the implications of a Fed pause now on the pace of hikes later. Being on hold now raises the risk that by the time the Fed moves again, they will be behind the cycle.