This afternoon, for the first time in several years, markets really don't know what to expect from the FOMC at the conclusion of the committee's two day policy meeting. Interesting to note that futures markets in Chicago are still pricing in a 68% probability of a 25 basis point increase in the Fed Funds Rate today. I bet that at least some of you did not know that those futures are now pricing out any interest rate increases at all in 2019. That's right. As of this morning, according to those markets, which admittedly can be volatile, there is now only a 38% probability that there will be any increase at all at some point in calendar 2019.
Let's not forget that in 2019 Jerome Powell's intent is that every policy meeting be a live one. That's a big change from the recent past where every other meeting had been meaningless due to the lack of the whole dog and pony show. Today, they'll bring out the jugglers, the plate spinners, and the alligator wrestlers. They'll drag out their constantly erroneous economic projections. I know that I am hard on the FOMC. They have earned far more criticism than they have received, to be honest. Two things that the Jerome Powell era has gotten right is that move toward making every meeting live, and the reduction in verbage in the official policy statements.
Something that this Fed has gotten completely wrong outside of policy, which we can disagree on, has been the lack of communication with the public over the removal of assets from the balance sheet. This "quantitative tightening" program that amounts to the actual "burning" of $50 billion worth of liquidity every month is tightening monetary conditions, and is every bit as experimental as was the easing policy that had taken the balance sheet so far in the first place. That "easing" policy was inappropriately extended years beyond what should have been it's rightful conclusion. Those errors are the cause. This current Fed's errors are errors of aggression, not intent.
With the entire planet engaged in a synchronized slow-down, with dollar strength at unhelpful levels, with emerging markets gasping, with the Chinese and German manufacturing sectors in serious decline, with the U.S. housing and auto sectors (really anything requiring the consumer use of credit) simply reeling, and with U.S. spending on core capital goods floundering, it becomes clear that the FOMC has displayed a dire lack of situational awareness to a degree difficult to describe.
Whether the Fed has caused all this damage is highly debatable. I will grant that the Fed did not cause any trade war. The Fed did not cause slow downs now visible across Europe and Asia. The Fed did indeed exacerbate the negative impact of these issues though, solely on their belief that a tight labor market would produce more inflation than it has. Janet Yellen did not understand why the Phillips Curve does not work in the modern age. At least she admitted that much.
Bottom line, a softer economy will surely put the labor market in harm's way. That is inevitable. Domestic manufacturing data is starting get wonky. Unfilled orders printed in contraction in the December Empire State survey. The energy sector is bound for a likely broad reduction in head count, and those will be good jobs lost. There are a plethora of good reasons to take a more sentient approach to monetary policy -- the potential for an inversion of the 2s/10s curve chief among them. Another step down the road of normalization without some kind of clearly overt messaging on the need to be more cautious on both interest rate policy and balance sheet management in 2019 can only be considered "intent to harm." Harm who? Harm you.
(An earlier version of this column appeared at 7:36 a.m. ET on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get great columns like this from Stephen "Sarge" Guilfoyle, Jim Cramer and other experts throughout the market day.)