Following the recent dismal communication failures first by NY Fed president John Williams, and following that, Powell's own notorious July 31 "mid-cycle adjustment" press conference, a recurring lament among the investment community has been for the Fed to just keep its mouth shut, instead of continuing to yap and confirming that it is absolutely clueless about the economy and the future.
In a surprising twist, the Fed may actually be listening.
According to the Spectator, chair Powell has banned any public appearances by any Fed Board member, noting that "appearances at conferences have been canceled, all scheduled interviews have been abandoned and any comments on or off the record are outlawed."
This unprecedented action, the Spectator reports, is a reflection of two pressures.
- First, economic indicators increasingly suggest the US is heading into a recession with the Dow plunging 800 points on Wednesday.
- Second, relations with the White House have reached a new low, with president Trump pinning the success of his presidency upon a strong economy as a recession - Trump believes - would destroy his reputation and kill his reelection chances. As a result, Trump has - correctly - blamed the current woeful state of the global economy on the Fed. The problem is that Trump also "owned" the same state of both the economy and the market for the past two years, so any recession will be entirely his, just as Yellen (and Bernanke) intended, and shift attention away from the Fed.
Continuing a series of outbursts aimed at the Fed, Trump again lashed out at Powell (and the Fed) claiming they are responsible for the slide in the stock market. To be sure, Trump has been doing this for a long time, realizing he will need a foil if when the market and economy crash, and has - for better or worse - picked the Fed as the scapegoat.
‘Other countries say THANK YOU to clueless Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve,’ Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday. ‘Germany, and many others, are playing the game! CRAZY INVERTED YIELD CURVE! We should easily be reaping big Rewards & Gains, but the Fed is holding us back. We will Win!’
Meanwhile, a hapless Powell believes that the Fed, which cut interest rates by a quarter point at the end of last month, has very little left in its armory and that even a cut in interest rates would do nothing to combat growing international economic pressures. Powell has become increasingly concerned at Trump’s criticisms, which according to the Spectator show the president has little understanding of the economy or the Fed’s role. Of course, at the end of the day, what matters is what Trump believes, and according to the president, it may soon be time to stack the Fed with his personal, dovish appointees, the result of which are posts such as the one in which a Hedge Fund CIO asked : "When Will A Reporter Ask Powell If He Will Be The Last Fed Chairman."
Which brings us to the unprecedented gag order, which the Spectator says is due to Powell's determination not to do or allow to be said nothing that could further fuel the struggle between an independent Fed and a controlling president.
Unfortunately for Powell, that will likely change as soon as next week's Jackson Hole meeting, especially if the Fed fails to commit to 100bps or more in rate cuts and/or launch QE.