The Bond Market Will Decide

The lack of a unified opinion from the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors will leave the Fed in the dust when rates rise.

The message from the FOMC minutes was clear: There is no message.

The Fed remains unsure of when or if to tighten. Given the bulk of the data was positive, a few members were ready to go in July and urged the committee to act soon to begin normalizing rates. Others weren’t so sure.

The others, most likely led by committee chair Janet Yellen, wanted to see more data. The others won.

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This is no surprise. The majority on the FOMC are clearly afraid to move given the fragile state of the global economy and the possible political unrest here and abroad in the next few months. That’s not what they are saying publicly, but it’s clear. The other thing they aren’t saying is they fear if they tighten, the dollar will strengthen too much and hurt U.S. company earnings.

In the meantime, the bond market is going through the waste-of-time exercise of pretending what the Fed says and does is important.

The path for interest rates will not be blazed by the Fed. The Fed is clearly not going to direct policy. The bond market will.

While the Fed is torn, there is no like of solidarity in the bond market. The big bond traders have decided we’re on a path toward a very slow global economy, with a slowdown of inflation here and deflation everywhere else. If global economic activity improves next year and inflation ticks up, the bond market will decide when rates rise. The Fed will be left in the dust, doing nothing but playing catch-up.

Dwight Johnston is the chief economist of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues and president of Dwight Johnston Economics. He is the author of a popular commentary site and is a frequent speaker at credit union board planning sessions and industry conferences.

August 18, 2016

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