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Tight Lipped Powell

In day two of Congressional testimony, Powell was Tight-Lipped on Bank Dividends and Leverage

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell deflected lawmakers’ questions on two items that are at the top of Wall Street’s wish list: whether the Fed will drop restrictions on bank dividends and if it will keep giving lenders a break on capital demands due to Covid-19.
  • In back-to-back hearings in the Senate yesterday and House today, Powell refused to budge in the face of repeated queries -- mostly from Republicans -- about temporary measures the Fed implemented to strengthen the financial system during the pandemic.
  • Powell offered similar versions of the same quote, “That’s something that’s under consideration right now.” Basically saying: You’ll know the answer when we tell everybody else.

What About Jobs?

What About Overheating and Inflation? 

Yesterday and today, Powell Pushed Back on Concerns of Prices Rising, Overheating.

“Our policy is accommodative because unemployment is high and the labor market is far from maximum employment,” he told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, in his second day of testimony to Congress. “It’s true that some asset prices are elevated by some measures.”

Powell pointed to the example of car prices rising because of a chip shortage and supply-chain constraints in the tech industry.

“That doesn’t necessarily lead to inflation because inflation is a process that repeats itself year over year over year,” he said, rather than a one-time surge.

In multiple questions from lawmakers about the risk of the economy overheating -- with additional government aid and continued support from the central bank -- the Fed chair reiterated his view that there’s a long way still to go before returning to pre-pandemic strength.

During the hearing, Powell voiced confidence that the Fed would succeed in lifting inflation and getting it to average 2% over time.

“I’m confident that we can and that we will, and we are committed to using our tools to achieving that,” he said. “We live in a time where there is significant disinflationary pressures around the world and where essentially all major advanced economy’s central banks have struggled to get to 2%. We believe we can do it, we believe we will do it.”

Powell said that “it may take more than three years” to reach that goal but vowed to update the Fed’s assessment on the issue every quarter. ​

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Market Soothing Talk

If the Fed had a clue, it would recognize economic bubbles as a sigh of inflation.

If you expected Powell would be different than all the group-think Chairs who preceded him, you thought wrong.

Yesterday, I noted The Fed Soothes the Market Today With More Easy Money Talk

Powell repeated the same message today and the DOW closed at another all-time high.

How Long Can This Go On?

Note the Very Unusual Move in Mortgage Rates vs the 10-Year US Treasury Yield in which mortgage rates ought to be 75 to 100 basis points higher than they are.

The Fed via QE asset purchases is doing a far better job manipulating mortgage yields lower than it has done controlling yields on long-term treasuries.

My question on February 14 still stands: How Long Before the Fed Tries to Manipulate Long-Term Rates Lower?