The Fed has now kept interest rates at zero for 81 months.
This is the longest period in the history of the Fed’s existence, lasting longer than even the 1938-1942 period of ZIRP.
And the US economy is moving back into recession. Consider that…
1) Industrial production fell five months straight in the first half of 2015. This has never happened outside of a recession.
2) Merchant Wholesalers’ Sales are in recession territory.
3) The Empire Manufacturing Survey is in recession territory.
4) All four of the Fed’s September Purchasing Manager Index (PMI) readings (Philadelphia, New York, Richmond, and Kansas City) came in at readings of sub-zero. This usually happens when you are already 4-5 months into a recession. (H/T Bill Hester)
Why do these issues matter?
Because they are happening at a time when interest rates are already at zero.
Never in history has the US entered a recession when rates were this low. And it spells serious trouble for the financial system going forward.
Firstly, with rates at zero, the Fed has next to no ammo to combat the contraction. Some Central Banks have recently cut rates into the negative. But this is politically impossible in the US, particularly with an upcoming Presidential election.
This ultimately leaves QE as the last tool in the Fed’s arsenal to address an economic contraction.
However, at $4.5 trillion, the Fed’s balance sheet is already so monstrous that it has become a systemic risk in of itself. And the Fed knows this too… Janet Yellen, before she became Fed chair, was worried about exiting the Fed’s positions back when its balance sheet was only $1.3 trillion.
Moreover, it’s not clear that the Fed could launch another QE program at this point.
For one thing there is the upcoming Presidential election.
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, it is clear that wealth inequality has become one of the big issues for the election. With numerous media outlets catching on to the fact that QE exacerbates this, the Fed’s hands are tied unless we get a full on market meltdown.
So, the US economy is weakening at a time when the bar is set quite high for the Fed to enact any significant policy changes. With interest rates already at zero, the Fed cannot cut rates. And with Congress breathing down its neck and an election looming the Fed won’t be able to launch another QE program unless we experience a full-scale financial meltdown.
Thus, the Fed’s hands are tied… at a time when the economy is faltering and the stock market is beginning to weaken dramatically.
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