President Donald Trump, who called this week for a “large” cut in the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate, said on Wednesday that Chairman Jerome Powell “let us down” by delivering a quarter-point reduction.
Trump, who’s relentlessly attacked the politically independent Fed for keeping borrowing costs too high, tweeted that financial markets were looking for the “beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle” after Powell indicated that wouldn’t necessarily happen.
While the president delivered a thumbs-down verdict after the rate decision, he did credit Powell for halting the Fed’s offloading of its securities portfolio, known as quantitative tightening, earlier than expected. The Fed said Wednesday it will halt the balance-sheet shrinking as of Aug. 1, instead of at the end of September as previously scheduled.
….As usual, Powell let us down, but at least he is 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2019
Trump has had the central bank in his crosshairs since last year, when it raised interest rates four times. He’s not the only elected leader applying more pressure on monetary officials who are supposed to be insulated from politics. It’s happening in countries from Turkey to India — leading some investors and economists to fret about the future of central-bank independence.
Trump’s frustration reached a point where he began asking aides about his ability to oust the Fed chief, in discussions reported by Bloomberg News on Dec. 21.
Advised that he doesn’t have the authority to fire Powell outright, the president asked White House lawyers in February to explore whether he could strip him of his chairmanship, a legally dubious move that could lead to a messy court battle. After Bloomberg News reported this twist, Trump said on June 23 that he has the power to demote Powell.
Powell has said repeatedly that he intends to serve his full four-year term as chair and that “the law is clear” on that issue. Earlier this month, in answer to a question from lawmakers during his testimony before Congress, Powell said he wouldn’t step down from his job if Trump attempted to fire him.
While the president’s demand for a more aggressive Fed is echoed by some investors, the case for a sharp cut in interest rates isn’t obvious to everyone.
U.S. stocks are high, unemployment is around the lowest in a half-century and consumers continue to spend. There’s also a risk that lower rates will lead to asset bubbles and excessive borrowing that will haunt the economy later.