Back in early October, news-reading algorithms, followed by traders and investors, reacted to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell‘s statement that our central bank was “a long way” from getting rates to a neutral zone, which is the area in which interest rates are neither slowing the economy nor boosting growth. The subsequent market sell-off erased the S&P 500‘s gains for the year, taking stocks down over 10 percent from their new highs hit in late September.
Donald Trump took a swipe at his Fed chairman, saying in an interview with the Washington Post, “I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay (Powell).”
The talk on the street Tuesday night was that this statement all but took a dovish tease off the table, as Fed watchers felt Powell would bristle rather than acquiesce.
But in that critical moment as the world watched, Powell said Wednesday that interest rates were “just below” neutral signaling that the Fed may slow its aggressive rate rising. News-reading algos immediately reacted to the words, markets followed and within seconds we had a serious rally underway.
Nearly as fast as stocks surged and bond yields dipped, there were statements that Powell had blinked. Some even implied that he caved to the president to save his job.
To both statements, I say hogwash.
First and foremost, Powell did not blink. He reacted to data, and that data had softened significantly since his statement in October.
To suggest that the Fed should ignore worsening financial conditions, widening spreads on corporate credit, a global slowdown, particularly China’s growth dipping to its weakest level since 2009, a myriad of CEO warnings, an 8.9 percent decline in new home sales and agriculture producer sentiment at its lowest levels in nearly three years would imply that the Fed isn’t at all “data dependent” and should continue to signal that the central bank was still a long way from neutral, markets, corporations and the U.S. economy be dammed.
Secondarily, Powell doesn’t need this job. He has a degree in politics from Princeton and a law degree from Georgetown. In addition to his lengthy government service, he worked as an investment banker at Dillon, Read & Co. and spent nearly a decade as a partner at Carlyle Group. Following that, from 2010 through 2012 he was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, where he worked for a salary of $1 per year.
Now in all seriousness folks, does that resume or his work during the debt crisis suggest to you that he needs this job?
Jon Najarian is a CNBC contributor and co-founder of Investitute.com.