After the Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates on Wednesday for the seventh time since September 2007 — lowering the federal funds rate to 2 percent, from 2.25 percent, the lowest level since November 2004 — most analysts observed that the Fed’s move showed that it was more concerned with preventing recession than halting inflation.
We’re not so sure that it is a question of recession verses inflation that’s driving the Fed.
We think that the Fed’s real concern right now is neither inflation nor recession, at least not directly, but the lack of liquidity in the financial markets and the lack of funds that financial institutions are making available to borrowers.
So far, the Fed has pumped more than $400 billion into major U.S. financial institutions in the hope that these institutions would make this money available to borrowers.
And, so far, they haven’t done so, and liquidity conditions in the credit markets have continued to deteriorate.
Despite the Fed’s inceasing generosity for the past six months, it has been harder, not easier, for businesses (and individuals) to borrow money.
The Fed is nearing the end of its rate-cutting line. If the financial spigot does not loosen for borrowers based on the latest cuts, there may be no more that the Fed can do, especially since, with rising fuel and food prices, fears of inflation are already starting to overtake fears of recession, in America’s living rooms as well as its Board rooms.
Two members of the Fed’s Open Market Commitee — Richard W. Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, and Charles I. Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed — which is charged under federal law with overseeing national monetary policy — voted against lowering the rates this time. And the criticism of the Fed’s policy of lowering interest rates and providing cheap money for the banks is getting broader, louder and more influential.
The banks and major lending institutions have been waiting for the Fed to cut interest rates as far as it possibly would before they start lending.
That moment has probably arrived.
Now it’s the financial market’s turn to make a move.