Still-lackluster global growth that continues to threaten the longest economic expansion in U.S. history will likely spur Federal Reserve policymakers to cut rates for a third time this year when their two-day policy meeting wraps up on Wednesday.
Wall Street widely expects policymakers on the Federal Open Market Committee to vote to cut the so-called fed funds target rate by another 25 basis points to a range of between 1.5% and 1.75% as the ongoing global manufacturing downturn prompts other central banks - most notably the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan - to keep their own rates low.
The anticipated move from the central bank mirrors similar a similar pattern followed in the late 1990s by then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who led the Fed in a rate about-face amid global economic and financial market turbulence that at that time was also threatening a relatively sanguine U.S. economy - despite strong employment and tempered inflation.
A 1990s Repeat?
In 1995-1996 and again in 1998, the Fed slashed rates three times in an effort to offset an economic downturn and keep the U.S. economy from stalling out. Current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell himself has drawn parallels to that era, noting this month that the Fed's current efforts are in the same "spirit" of making monetary policy more accommodative.
Even so, some Fed policymakers feel they should now take a breather "to let the full effect of lower interest rates run its course," Morgan Stanley said in a recent research note, particularly since the impact of each rate cut of 25 basis points takes at least nine to 12 months to begin showing its effect on economic growth.
Some also feel the rate-cut train will come to a halt after Wednesday.
"We've already had two cuts, and I expect we will get one more on Wednesday, and that will be the last one for the foreseeable future - three cuts and you're out," said TheStreet's Real Money Pro contributor Peter Tchir, noting that he himself is "only about 65% for this week's meeting."
"Three rate cuts this year is probably sufficient for the year including the measure to start the Fed balance sheet expansion - a mechanism that is similar to the previous three rounds of quantitative easing," said CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang Yan, adding the Fed likely needs some dry powder "as rescue measures in the future economic downturn."
The Fed is scheduled to announce its latest policy decision at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Powell will hold a news conference half an hour later.
Too Much Gas?
To be sure, some economists are wary of the Fed cutting rates too much, flooding the U.S. economic engine in the process. The Fed's first rate cut came at the height of the China-U.S. trade war as well as fears of slowing Asian and European growth and both economic and political uncertainty in other parts of the world.
One Fed-watcher in particular has made no bones about his view that the Fed still hasn't done enough to kick-start growth - especially as other central banks continue to cut their own benchmark lending rates. Lower rates elsewhere in the world tend to push investors to stick to U.S. dollar-denominated investments, as the potential returns are higher.
Said President Donald Trump on Twitter following the Fed's last rate-cut announcement: "Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No 'guts,' no sense, no vision! A terrible communicator!"
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