August 27, 2016, 12:00pm EST
The Fed’s Janet Yellen was the focal point for markets for the week. She had a scheduled speech at the annual Fed conference at Jackson Hole.
When her speech was finally made public Friday morning, the response in markets was uncertainty (the most used word for the past nine years).
Stocks went up, then down. Yields went down, then up.
So what do we make of it? Let’s start with the headlines that hit the wire Friday morning.
The world was wondering if Yellen would support the messaging from some of her fellow Fed members–that a September rate hike is on the table. Or would she continue the backstepping (dovish speak) the Fed has done for the past five months. The answer was ‘yes.’ She did both.
Yellen said the case for rate hikes has strengthened (yellow marker) because the data is nearing their goals (employment and inflation–the white marker). Ah, rate hike. But then she said the Fed expects inflation to hit the target 2% in the next few years (circled)! And then talked about the strategy for more QE. Huh? And then to top it off, she said they might move the goalposts. They might move the inflation target higher, and start targeting GDP. That means they would be happy to leave conditions ultra accommodative until those higher targets are met. Clearly dovish.
As I said Thursday, they want to raise rates to get the financial system closer to proper functioning, but they don’t want to cause a recession. The Fed wants to raise short-term rates, but promote a flatter yield curve (i.e. promote expectations that the economy will continue to be soft) to keep the market interest rates low, which keeps the housing market on the rails and the economic activity on the rails.
Remember, we talked about the piece Bernanke wrote a couple of weeks ago, where he suggested exactly this type of perception manipulation from the Fed, to balance the need to raise rates, without killing the economy.
That looks like the game plan.
Have a great weekend!
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