Commentary > The Hays Files
Handicapping the Fed
A rate cut is looking more and more like a sure thing.
August 6, 2002: 5:57 PM EDT
By Kathleen Hays, CNN/Money Contributing Columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Federal-Reserve-rate-cut drums are beating louder and louder as more and more economists join the double-dip-recession conga line.

On a day like Tuesday, when the Dow is up triple digits and the Nasdaq is snapping back, the arguments sound a bit less convincing. But in the end it will be the economy that determines what the Fed does.

Steve Slifer of Lehman Brothers is the latest longtime Wall Street "Fedwatcher" to make the rate-cut call. He shares the economic worries of other economists calling for the Fed to cut rates in the next few months, including Ed McKelvey of Goldman Sachs who last Friday "front-ran" the economist pack with his dramatic call for 75 basis points worth of cuts in the fourth quarter. (Slifer also is looking for a 75 point cut.)

Some of the reasons for this growing consensus include:

But what has Slifer more worried is what's going on in the nation's capital markets, where companies get the financing they need for day-to-day operations as well as long-term investment.

Slifer notes that even though traditional sources of funding for many corporations had tightened up, firms had still been able to tap the corporate bond market. But suddenly in July issuance in the corporate bond market fell sharply, he says, and that is a worry because it means less financial liquidity at a time when the economy is vulnerable.

If it were just a falling stock market, Slifer says, the Fed could afford to not respond. But if the concerns in financial markets "are interrupting the flow credit to corporate America, bad things can happen."

Dave Gilmore, who watches the currency markets at Foreign Exchange Analytics, says the markets are correct in pricing in more Fed easing. "Call it counter-deflationary action. Call it an anti-double-dip dose. Call it a pro-asset-price-prop. Call it a consumer caress," he poetically observes in his daily missive. "One thing for sure is the Fed is running out of reasons for simply holding policy steady at already historically low rates."

Gilmore's take: There is no threat of inflation, and if anything, the threat is DE-flation. Gilmore places a lot of emphasis on the November elections, raising the convoluted argument that if the Fed wants to (or needs to) cut, it had better do so well before November to avoid looking too political.

Not everyone expects a cut

Bob Ried of Ried, Thunberg says he does NOT think the Fed will cut now, or at all. Ried regularly surveys fund managers to gauge market sentiment on Fed expectations. Friday, after the jobs report, of 64 surveyed 60 said the Fed would hold steady in August and only 4 said the Fed would cut. As for the September meeting, 53 said "steady" and 10 said "cut."

Ried says the consumer is holding on, and as for the stock market, there's nothing the Fed can do to stop it from falling anyway. Ried says the only the way a Fed rate cut could make a difference now is if it were a coordinated effort with the European Central Bank and the Bank of England -- not in his forecast.

Kathleen Hays co-anchors Money & Markets, airing Monday to Friday on CNNfn, and appears throughout the day reporting on the economy and how it affects financial markets. As part of CNN's Business News team, she is also a regular contributor to Lou Dobbs Moneyline.  Top of page

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