Spare Me the Fed’s Latest Data-Driven Drivel

In this hyper-tense, polarized nation where words now count for more than deeds, we need a running list of who is offended by what so we can steer clear of landmine nouns, adjectives, and titles. I guess millennials keep a checklist on their phones.

Maybe there’s an app for that.

On my iPhone, I have the “Hey Siri” function. The phone is always listening for those two words in short succession, at which point she asks how she can help.

I bet I could make an app that’s always listening for offending words.

When one hits the airwaves, the phone could buzz and ring, signaling me to 1) identify the offending party for an immediate rebuke, and 2) determine if I should be paid because I was subjected to such horror. I could even give it a creative name, using the term for shaming others for a perceived slight. It would be the “Cry Bully App.”

The more I hear about college campus protests and the fragile egos of our youth, the more dispirited I become. In the words of Madeline Kahn in the movie Blazing Saddles, “I’m tired of being tired!” (Now, there’s a movie you couldn’t make today!)

Typically I find refuge in the financial pages, where numbers still make sense and actions take precedence.

But there is one group that babbles more than others, doling out polemics and creating linguistic smokescreens, all the while pretending it’s meaningful. The worst part is, we as investors and financial market professionals are required to listen to them.

It’s like being stuck in a lecture hall with a professor that drones on. You can’t leave because you need the class, but staying put is hard on the brain.

And then the media hangs on every word.

Every. Single. Word.

Reporters twist each sentence. They parse every press release, comparing it to previous memos, looking for subtle clues to massive changes.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, the pied piper utters the same, fateful words. Data-driven.

Of course I’m talking about the Fed and Chair Yellen. While what they say isn’t exactly fake news in the sense that it is contrived, there’s no doubt that it’s usually not news.

How can it be news when the leaders of the central bank of the most powerful financial nation on the planet say for the ten-millionth time that their decisions are data-driven? And that they will change their minds if the data changes in the next few months? Or days, or minutes?

What statement that comes before such hedging could be important enough to write about or discuss?

We’ll raise rates, unless the data says otherwise.

We’ve heard that for years. Yes, the Fed finally started inching rates higher in late 2015… from zero!

They had a grand plan to raise rates three to four times in 2016. They settled on once. Their forecast for this year was four to six rate hikes. It looks like we’ll get two.

And their GDP forecasts? Puh-leeze.

Every year since 2009 this group has estimated GDP above 3%. Never in the current year, but always next year. I feel like I’m driving by Joe’s Crab Shack, where the sign reads “Free Crab Next Tuesday.”

We never quite get to next Tuesday.

Finally Fed officials have thrown in the towel on this one. They now expect GDP around 2% through 2019. Welcome to our reality.

After their latest meeting, the Fed held true to the old wisdom of forecasting. Give a price, or a date, but never both.

They noted how they intend to shrink their balance sheet, which was big “news.” And they told everyone it would be relatively soon. When asked what that meant, Chair Yellen responded that she did not want to define it. In other words, “I’m not gonna tell you!”

But that’s OK. The big wind down was big news anyway. Because it made the papers. It made the airwaves. What it didn’t make was a difference.

After much hemming and hawing, the Fed raised rates by a quarter point. And yet real interest rates (overnight rates minus inflation) remain negative. That’s hardly tight monetary policy. As for investors, they sent yields lower. No fear about inflation or sky-high rates there.

Will they raise rates again in September? Maybe wait until December? Will they actually start to shrink their balance sheet? Will they stick to their outline, sloughing off $6 billion of Treasurys and $4 billion of mortgage-backed bonds each month to start?

Who knows? Even if you asked, and got an answer, it wouldn’t matter. At the end of their reply, they’d add their catchphrase… Data-driven.

Let me know when they actually do something. Until then, I’ll be catching up on old movies that are very funny, and most decidedly not politically correct.

Rodney Johnson
Follow me on Twitter @RJHSDent

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Categories: Central Banks

About Author

Rodney Johnson works closely with Harry Dent to study how people spend their money as they go through predictable stages of life, how that spending drives our economy and how you can use this information to invest successfully in any market. Rodney began his career in financial services on Wall Street in the 1980s with Thomson McKinnon and then Prudential Securities. He started working on projects with Harry in the mid-1990s. He’s a regular guest on several radio programs such as America’s Wealth Management, Savvy Investor Radio, and has been featured on CNBC, Fox News and Fox Business’s “America’s Nightly Scorecard, where he discusses economic trends ranging from the price of oil to the direction of the U.S. economy. He holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University.