Thursday, January 31, 2008

A tough time for the Fed

Yesterday the Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate by another 0.50%, after a between-meetings cut about week before. The Fed was reacting to a credit crunch and the slackening of economic growth stemming from troubles in the housing market.

But at the same time, overall consumer price inflation was up 4.1 percent in December over a year earlier. While the "core" rate (less food and energy) was up only 2.4 percent, inflation is still clearly a concern. Per the Humphrey/Hawkins legislation, the Fed has twin goals of full employment in addition to price stability, but the latter concern seems to have taken a back seat recently.

This is arguably for good reason. The Fed is probably gambling that inflation will remain tame either because (1) much of the recent surge is due to energy prices, which are unlikely to be affected much by U.S. domestic developments, or (2) the deceleration in aggregate demand we have recently seen should dampen prices anyway.

Keep your fingers crossed! But it probably isn't time to jump to inflation-indexed bonds if you don't own them already.