Eyes on the Fed

Post from First Trust Economics Blog

Brian S. Wesbury – Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA – Deputy Chief Economist 

Nov. 1st 2021

Investors will be focused on the Federal Reserve this

week and our expectation is that it will finally announce an

overdue tapering of quantitative easing. In addition, we

expect Chairman Jerome Powell to make it clear in the press

conference that he expects tapering to be completed by mid-


Inflation is clearly a problem. The CPI is up 5.4% from

a year ago. When October data arrive the year-ago

comparison will likely be 5.7%, the largest increase since the

early 1990s. Some of this is “transitory,” but not all of it, not

by a long shot. Housing rents were held down artificially until

early September, due to limits on evictions. Once nationwide

eviction limits ended, rents escalated in September and we

expect more of the same for the foreseeable future. That’s

important because rents make up more than 30% of the CPI.

Given the likely pace of inflation in October, the “real”

federal funds rate (the funds rate adjusted by inflation) is

running at about -5.6%. That’s a record low, even more

deeply negative than the -5.0% in early 1975 and -4.8% in

mid-1980, both of which were at the end of recessions, not

almost a year and a half into a recovery, like we are right now.

In other words, the current economic environment

doesn’t just warrant tapering, but rate hikes. Unfortunately,

rate hikes aren’t happening anytime soon. We wouldn’t be

surprised by just one rate hike at the very end of 2022, but the

start of a hiking cycle could also be postponed until 2023.

First, the Fed is very unlikely to raise rates until after it’s

done tapering, so that alone delays hikes until at least mid-

2022. Second, we think the Fed will be reluctant to start

hiking a few months before the mid-term elections.

And third, personnel changes at the Fed will likely give

the Fed a more dovish tilt in 2022. There’s already a vacancy

on the Fed Board, two openings to fill for bank presidents in

Dallas and Boston, and we think Trump-appointees Richard

Clarida and Randy Quarles will be gone by mid-2022, due to

the expiration of their terms as Vice Chairman and Vice Chair

for Supervision, respectively.

The problem with monetary policy is that the M2

measure of money is up 36% since February 2020, versus a

trend of about 6% annualized pre-COVID. That surge in M2

is like a cow that’s been eaten by a snake…gradually moving

through. As long as the Fed doesn’t regurgitate the extra

money, the cow isn’t going away, which, in this case, means

a devaluation of money relative to goods and services.

That doesn’t mean higher inflation forever, but it does

mean a prolonged period of higher inflation until the extra M2

is fully digested by the economy.