“I don’t think that’s fair because I don’t — again, I think I’ve been pretty clear in saying we have an economy in the US that is fundamentally healthy. I think the jobs numbers today showed an economy that is fundamentally healthy. We’ve got very strong demand outside of the US. We’ve got exports growing, employment strong, inflation is contained. There are some risks, and I’m focused on those risks. That’s my job, and the biggest risk we have is housing and housing is a big drag on our economy and still, we’re going through a turbulent time in the capital markets. That’s a risk so we’re focused on the risks, but let’s not forget that we have a healthy economy.”
-Paulson

Two days before the Fed meeting Paulson is making the case that the economy is strong and he says the risks are *his job* and not the Fed’s job. Also, he said we have a strong $ policy after being silent on that for several months or more. No cut in the fed funds rate Tuesday would support his statements.
This article is the consensus view that’s pricing in a 25 cut on Tuesday.

US Fed seems poised to lower interest rates again at its meeting Tuesday

By JEANNINE AVERSA updated 6:46 a.m. ET, Sun., Dec. 9, 2007 WASHINGTON

A lot has changed since the U.S. Federal Reserve hinted two months ago that it might be finished cutting interest rates for a while. Credit has become harder to obtain,

Not true per se. Some spreads have widened, but absolute levels for mortgages, for example, are lower, and good credits are getting LIBOR minus funding in the bond markets. Yes, funding is more difficult and more expensive for ‘Wall Street’, but ‘Main Street’ borrowing needs are being met at reasonable terms.

Wall Street has convulsed again,

Stocks are generally up recently, and up for the year.

and the housing slump has intensified.

Maybe modestly, with some indicators flat to higher. Prices down for the quarter but YoY prices still higher as reported by the two broader measures.

As a result, policymakers at the central bank now appear to have changed their minds about the need to drop interest rates again.

Yes, that’s the appearance as seen by the financial press. (I haven’t read it that way.)

The Fed had cut rates twice this year and officials suggested in October that might be enough to help the economy survive the credit and housing stress.

And immediately afterward in several speeches as fed officials attempted unsuccessfully to take the cut out of Jan FF futures.

Then the problems snowballed,

There were no ‘snowballing problems’ only some spread widening even as absolute rates were generally lower and LIBOR rates going up over the next ‘turn’ at year end.

leading Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to signal that one more cut might be needed.

Again, that’s how the financial press heard him. They never even reported firm the firm talk on inflation risks becoming elevated. The attitude is anything the fed says about inflation is just talk they have to say and that they don’t mean and not worth reporting.

Analysts expect the Fed to trim its key rate, now at 4.5 percent, by one-quarter of a percentage point at the meeting Tuesday. Some even speculate about the possibility of a half-point cut.

Yes, that’s the consensus.

Banks, financial companies and other investors who made loans to people with spotty credit

and fraudulent applications

or put money into securities backed by those subprime mortgages have lost billions of dollars (euros). Investors in the U.S. and abroad have grown more wary of buying new debt, thereby aggravating the credit crunch.

Yes. But again, ‘Main Street’ still remains well funded at reasonable terms.

All this has added to the turmoil on Wall Street, and Bernanke and other Fed officials say they must take it into account when deciding their next move.

Yes. And the economic numbers have come in strong enough for markets to take up to 35 bp out of the Eurodollars and nearly eliminate pricing in a 50 cut in the last few trading days.

But does lowering rates mean the Fed essentially is bailing out investors or encouraging more sloppy decision-making? In other words, what exactly is the Fed’s job?

Bernanke and other Fed officials say it is to make policy that keeps the economy growing and inflation low, a stable climate that benefits individuals, businesses and investors. The Fed also has a responsibility to ensure the banking system is sound and financial markets run smoothly.

Yes, exactly.

“There is a link between Wall Street and Main Street. The Fed is taking the right actions, but they should be careful,” said Victor Li, an economics professor at the Villanova School of Business.

That implies the question is whether the ‘market functioning’ risk is higher than the inflation risk, which is what the fed was addressing with the last two cuts.

This time ‘market functioning’ risk rhetoric has taken a back seat to ‘economic weakness’ risk rhetoric.
One more story of note:

Fed’s Inflation Measure Says Rates Can’t Fall as Traders Expect

By Liz Capo McCormick and Sandra Hernandez

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) — The key to whether the Federal Reserve continues to cut interest rates after this week may hang on the wall behind economist Brian Sack’s desk in Washington.

Sack, head of monetary and financial market analysis at the Fed in 2003 and 2004, uses a chart that plots forward rates measuring investor expectations for inflation in five years. The gauge is so accurate that Sack and his colleagues persuaded the central bank to use it to help set policy. The chart is autographed by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Right now, it shows current Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke may have less room to lower borrowing costs than investors in Treasuries anticipate, potentially setting bondholders up for a fall. The expected inflation rate, which Sack says replicates what Fed officials use, reached 2.91 percent last week, the highest since 2004, when the central bank began the first of an unprecedented 17 rate increases. The measure was at 2.79 percent on Nov. 1.

“One of the defining features of the Bernanke Fed to date is its emphasis on measures of longer-term inflation expectations,” said Sack, whose partners at Macroeconomic Advisors include former Fed Governor Laurence Meyer. “The Fed is willing to tolerate short-run movements in inflation, but only as long as those movements don’t appear to be dislodging long-run inflation expectations.”

Any evidence that accelerating inflation is becoming entrenched may heighten the Fed’s debate as policy makers consider cutting rates to keep the worst housing market in 16 years and mounting losses in securities related to subprime mortgages from tipping the economy into recession.

`Inflationary Pressures’

The gauge used by Sack, dubbed the five-year five-year forward breakeven inflation rate, suggests bets on lower Fed funds rates may be too bold.

Sack and other analysts derive the measure of inflation expectations from yields on five- and 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and Treasuries.

Five-year TIPS yield 2.15 percentage points less than five- year notes. This so-called breakeven rate is the average inflation rate investors expect over the next five years. The forward rate projects what the breakeven will be in five years, smoothing blips in inflation expectations from swings in oil prices or other events.

The five-year TIPS’ breakeven rate rose to a six-month high of 2.47 percent Nov. 27, the week after oil climbed to a record $99.29 a barrel, from about 1.9 percent on Aug. 31. As crude fell to a six-week low on Dec. 6, the breakeven rate declined and Sack’s measure dropped to 2.85 percent.

Bernanke mentioned the forward rate in a 2004 speech. Simon Kwan, a vice president at the San Francisco Fed, singled out the measure in a 2005 report, saying it “captures the market’s assessment of how well the Federal Reserve promotes price stability in the long run.”

Gaining Steam

Most analysts expect the economy to gain steam through 2008. Growth will slow to 1.5 percent this quarter from a 4.9 percent annual rate last quarter, and rise to 2.6 percent by 2009, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8.

The dollar, which is poised to depreciate against the euro for a second straight year, is also fueling inflation concerns. The currency’s drop and oil’s climb pushed import prices up 1.8 percent in October, the most in 17 months.

The government may say this week that consumer prices, which set TIPS rates, increased 4.1 percent last month from this year’s low of 2 percent in August and the biggest rise since July 2006, according to the median estimate of 19 economists. Food, imports and energy prices may raise inflation expectations, Bernanke said in a Nov. 30 speech in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Liz Capo McCormick in New York at Emccormick7@bloomberg.net ;
Sandra Hernandez in New York at shernandez4@bloomberg.net .

Last Updated: December 9, 2007 10:58 EST

‘The numbers’ could be used to support most anything the fed might do.The inflation numbers are both more than strong enough to support a hike, with CPI due to be reported north of 4.1 on December 14, and core moving up out of ‘comfort zones’ as well, not to mention ‘prices paid’ surveys higher and higher import and export with the weak $. Add to that the recent strong economic data – employment, CEO survey, and even car sales up a tad, etc. etc.

Inflation can also be dismissed as ‘only food and energy’ and due to fall based on (misreading) future prices as predictors of where prices will be, leaving the door open to cuts due to both ‘market functioning’ as justified by FF/LIBOR spreads at year end and the possibility of Wall Street spilling over to Main Street by ‘forward looking models’.

I can see the fed meeting going around in circles and it will come down to whether they care about inflation or not. Most of the financial community thinks they don’t, and they may be correct.

I think they do care, and care a lot, but that fear of ‘market functioning’ was severe enough to temporarily overcome their perceived imperative to sustain and environment of low inflation. And at the October meeting, the fear of some members has subsided enough to report a dissenting vote, along with half the regional banks voting against a cut.

I do think that if the fed cuts 25 it will be because they are afraid of what happens if they don’t as markets are already pricing in a 25 cut, even though this is what happened October 31, and Fisher said they wouldn’t price in a cut for that reason.

The Balance of Risks

So what would they anticipate if they don’t cut FF? The $ up, commodities down, stocks down, and credit spreads widening.

Is that risk less acceptable than the risk of promoting inflation and risking the elevation of inflation expectations if they do cut 25?

Then, there is the ‘compromise’ of cutting the discount rate and removing the stigma to address year end liquidity and ‘market functioning’ in general, with and/or without cutting the fed funds rate. The anticipated results would be a muted stock market reaction as FF/LIBOR spreads narrow, and hopefully, other credit spreads also narrow.

And if they cut the discount rate and don’t cut the FF rate, the $ will still be expected to go up and commodities down. And, with liquidity improved, stocks may be expected to do better as well.

But even though Kohn discussed this in his speech and others touched on the ‘liquidity versus the macro economy’ as well, there is no way to know how much consideration it may be given.


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