Friday, 14 December, 2018

Trump criticizes Federal Reserve over interest rate hikes

Jean Garcia | 20 July, 2018, 00:51

"As he said he considers the Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell a very good man and that he is not interfering with Fed policy decisions - 'I'm letting them do what they feel is best, '" a White House spokesperson said in a statement. USA stock prices briefly pared losses after Trump's comments on interest rates.

The central bank lifted the funds target twice in quarter-percentage-point increments this year, most recently last month, to 1.75%-2%.

Testifying before Congress this week, Powell reiterated the US economy is humming along and should continue to do so.

The comments raised eyebrows in the United States, where presidents are expected to avoid criticism of the central bank in deference to its independence.

Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith declined to comment, Bloomberg reported. Powell last week told American Public Media's "Marketplace" program that the Fed has "a long tradition here of conducting policy in a particular way, and that way is independent of all political concerns". While the Fed has raised rates, they remain low on a historical basis.

Most Fed policymakers see the USA job market as close to full strength, while inflation has recently risen to the Fed's 2 percent target. On the campaign trail, he took a swipe at then-Chair Yellen. The central bank has always been seen as needing to operate free of political pressure from the White House or elsewhere to properly manage interest rate policy.

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"The Fed's independence from short-term political pressures is critical to enabling it to take the longer-run perspective that is essential for achieving its legislated dual mandate for jobs and price stability", said Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chairman who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

When Robert Rubin led President Bill Clinton's National Economic Council, he adopted a rule of never commenting on the Fed's actions - a policy that was subsequently followed by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

The U.S. dollar index.DXY cut its gains after Trump's comments, while yields on U.S. Treasury securities hit session lows. In December 1965, Lyndon Johnson famously summoned Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, to confront him over Martin's decision to lift rates. During the 1972 election year, Burns ran an extremely expansionary policy to ensure a strong economy to benefit Nixon's campaign, while talking tough about inflation.

Doing so slows growth, as it raises the cost of borrowing, but can also prevent the economy from overheating and tipping into recession.

George H.W. Bush's administration complained that he felt the Fed's failure to cut rates more quickly in 1992 contributed to his re-election defeat that year.

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