Updated: 08-21-2019

With today's release of the minutes for the July 30-31 meeting, the market got some added insight into what Fed members were thinking at that meeting.

Recall that Fed Presidents Rosengren (Boston) and George (Kansas City) cast dissenting votes at the July meeting, saying they preferred to see the target range for the fed funds rate left unchanged at 2.25% to 2.50%. What was more notable today, however, was the indication in the minutes that a couple of participants wanted a 50-basis points rate cut.

We don't know exactly who the officials were who argued for a more aggressive rate cut. We do know that they didn't win their argument, as the prevailing view was to cut the target range for the fed funds rate by 25 basis points to 2.00% to 2.25%.

Per usual, the language of the minutes created a lot of room for interpretation, yet they can ultimately be spun as being dovish minded since all but two voting members argued for a rate cut of some kind. They can also be spun that way since the worries about trade tension and slower global growth were compounded after the meeting was concluded. To wit:

  • President Trump shocked the world on August 1 with the news that he was going to implement a tariff on the remaining $300 billion of imported Chinese goods, effective September 1.
  • China reported its weakest industrial production growth in 17 years on August 13.
  • Germany reported a 0.1% qtr/qtr decline in Q2 GDP on August 14.
  • The 2s10s spread in the U.S. briefly inverted on an intraday basis on August 14.
  • Italy's government collapsed yesterday and the UK appears headed still for a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

On a brighter note, several reports, including the July Retail Sales report, indicate the U.S. consumer remains in good shape, but that is unlikely to supersede concerns at the Fed about a contagion effect from slower global growth and trade uncertainty.

The minutes contained the standard disclaimer that the Fed will remain "flexible" and focused on the implications of incoming data for the outlook.

The market for its part is going to remain rigid in its belief that another rate cut of at least 25 basis points is coming at the September FOMC meeting. That's because economic and trade developments since the July FOMC meeting have added to the risks for the economic outlook.

Accordingly, the market is expecting Fed Chair Powell to pay some lip service to that understanding when he speaks Friday at the Kansas City Fed's Jackson Hole Economic Symposium. When he does, the minutes released today will be a complete afterthought given their pre-August perspective, which was oriented then around risk management before more risks emerged.

--Patrick J. O'Hare, Briefing.com

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