Hilsenrath Once Again With The 3:55 PM Sticksave

Tyler Durden's picture

Just like last time around when stocks were plunging with no knight in shining armor in sight, until the Fed's faithful mouthpiece-cum-scribe Jon Hilsenrath showed up with a report, subsequently disproven, that more QE is coming minutes before the market close on July 6, so today stocks appeared poised for a precipice until some time after 3 pm it was leaked that none other than Hilseranth once again appeared, at precisely 3:55 pm, with more of the same. Ironically, the market only saw the word Hilsenrath in the headline, and ignored the rest. The irony is that this time around the Fed's scribbler said nothing that we did not know, namely that the Fed can do something in August, or it may do something in September, or it may do nothing, none of which is actually news.

From the WSJ:

Fed Officials See Action If Growth Doesn't Pick Up Soon

3:55 PM Eastern Daylight Time Jul 24, 2012

Federal Reserve officials, impatient with the economy's sluggish growth and high unemployment, are moving closer to taking new steps to spur activity and hiring.  

Since their June policy meeting, officials have made clear-in interviews, speeches and testimony to Congress-that they find the current state of the economy unacceptable. Many officials appear increasingly inclined to move unless they see evidence soon that activity is picking up on its own.  

Amid the recent wave of disappointing economic news, conversation inside the Fed has turned more intensely toward the questions of how and when to move. Central-bank officials could take new steps at their meeting next week, July 31 and Aug. 1, though they might wait until their September meeting to accumulate more information on the pace of growth and job gains before deciding whether to act.  

Fed officials could take some actions in combination or one after another. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, in testimony to Congress last week, listed several options under consideration, including a new program of buying mortgage-backed or Treasury securities, new commitments to keep short-term interest rates near zero beyond 2014 or an effort to push already-low benchmark short-term interest rates even lower.  

Determined to keep trying to get the economy going without causing inflation, the Fed is exploring other novel measures. One idea mentioned by Mr. Bernanke in his testimony would be to use a facility the Fed calls its discount window to provide cheap credit directly to banks that make new business or consumer loans. But it isn't clear such a program would do much good when banks already have ample access to cheap credit and this kind of program doesn't appear to be winning favor at the moment.  

Mr. Bernanke told Congress he wants to see more progress in reducing unemployment and he expressed frustration the economy appears to be "stuck in the mud." The Fed chairman has spoken in the past about the importance of the economy achieving what he calls "escape velocity"-growth that is fast enough to give the economy forward, self-reinforcing momentum.  

New worries are emerging at the Fed that the economy is falling short of that speed. The Commerce Department is expected to report this week that the economy grew at a rate substantially below 2% in the second quarter after expanding just 1.9% in the first quarter. The unemployment rate, at 8.2% in June, has moved little since January. Retail sales have been soft in recent months and financial markets, particularly in Europe, have become strained in past weeks. Some officials believe the outlook for growth has worsened a bit since the Fed's June meeting, when the central bank marked down its economic projections.  

Several officials have expressed both frustration with the disappointing recovery and a willingness to act if growth and employment don't pick up. Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland Fed, said in public comments earlier this month she would be prepared to act if weak economic data persisted. Dennis Lockhart, the Atlanta Fed president, said more action could be needed barring a "step-up of output and employment growth."  

Fed "hawks"-who tend to worry more about inflation and have opposed more action to stimulate the economy-have softened their tone and acknowledged the frustration. "I know people feel like we haven't made enough progress," James Bullard, St. Louis Fed president, said in an interview this month. He said he would be prepared to act if inflation falls too low or if a new shock hits the economy.  

There are several reasons why Fed officials might wait for their September meeting to decide whether to proceed. By then they will have seen two more monthly unemployment reports and two more months of data on output, spending and investment. Fed officials update their economic projections at the September meeting and Mr. Bernanke holds his a quarterly news conference after, which would give him an opportunity to publicly explain the Fed's thinking.  

Moreover, some officials believe the Fed's June decision to continue a program known as "Operation Twist" through year-end could help the economy and want to give it time to work. Under that program, the Fed is buying $267 billion worth of long-term Treasury securities and selling an equal amount of short-term securities in an attempt to push down long-term interest rates to spur spending and investment.   The most controversial option on the Fed's list is a large bond-buying program in which the Fed would acquire long-term securities with newly created money-a step known to many as "quantitative easing," or QE.  

In the Fed's first round of QE in 2009 and early 2010, it bought $1.25 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities and $300 billion of Treasury securities and debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In its second round in 2010 and 2011, the Fed bought $600 billion of Treasury securities. A third round could involve similarly substantial sums. Many officials have signaled a preference for buying mortgage securities. One reason: They fear that if they buy many more Treasury securities, the Fed could become too large a presence in that market and disrupt trading.  

For years, critics have warned that such programs would spur inflation, a collapse in the value of the dollar or a new financial bubble. Most measures of consumer price inflation, however, are close to the Fed's 2% goal, and broad measures of the dollar exchange rate have strengthened in the past twelve months, which has dampened the power of these warnings.  

Mr. Bernanke, meanwhile, has argued that the programs are helpful, while acknowledging their effects can be limited under certain conditions, such as when interest rates are already very low and demand for credit remains weak.  

A new round of bond-buying would be politically controversial so close to the November presidential election. During Mr. Bernanke's testimony last week, Democrats made clear they wanted the Fed to act and Republicans said it should proceed cautiously. The Fed chief has said repeatedly that the central bank will seek to do what is best for the economy, regardless of political pressure.  

Another option is a change in the Fed's public communication about its plans. Since January the Fed has been saying it doesn't expect to raise short-term interest rates until late 2014. The Fed could change its policy statement in September to move that date into 2015. Such pronouncements about the expected path of short-term rates tend to reduce long- and medium-term interest rates. The Fed thinks this supports near-term spending and investment.  

Officials also are looking at changing the interest rate paid on money banks deposit at the Fed. This interest on reserves is now 0.25%. Some critics say the Fed shouldn't be paying banks even this small amount for money that they choose not to lend.  

Fed officials haven't been very enthusiastic about this idea. Some officials think the benefits of reducing the rate would be small, and some worry cutting the rate could disrupt short-term money markets. Still, officials might choose to reduce the rate in combination with other moves in an effort to give the economy a little extra lift. The European Central Bank cut its bank deposit rate to zero earlier this month.   The Fed could also try to push its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, a little lower. Since late 2008, it has targeted a range for the rate between zero and 0.25%. It could narrow that range closer to zero.