Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 22.
Is the Federal Reserve playing politics when it comes to its interest rate policy?
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says so. In a recent interview with CNBC, Trump said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was keeping interest rates low to cater to President Obama and claimed Yellen was political.
Not so, says Robert Johnson, president and CEO of the American College of Financial Services and author of Invest With the Fed. Johnson spoke during TheStreet's recent financial adviser panel in New York City earlier this month.
"The way I would look at it is exactly the opposite," Johnson said. "If the Fed would come out, raise rates and say the economy is so strong that it can withstand a rate increase, isn't that the good news for Obama?"
But the Fed has only raised rates once during President Obama's term. The 25-basis-point hike took place in December of 2015 -- the first increase since 2006. The move officially ended the Fed's zero interest rate policy which commenced in December 2008, the immediate aftermath of the recession.
Johnson said the Fed keeping rates low is a sign the economy isn't yet strong enough, which is a negative for the party in power. The Fed kept interest rates steady at its September meeting, but said the case for a rate hike "has strengthened."
In a press conference following the release of the Fed's September statement, Yellen was asked about Trump's criticism of her and she insisted that politics play no role in the central bank's monetary policies.
"I think inaction is seen as being less interventionist into politics than some action." Johnson added he expects the Fed to raise interest rates in December if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November.
If Trump wins, Johnson said the Fed would delay its rate hike as the uncertainty of a Trump presidency may be too much for the markets to bear. He said the Fed wouldn't want to add to that burden with a rate hike.
"I think you would see a negative market reaction," Johnson said in describing the consequences of the Fed raising rates in December should Trump win the election. Johnson said it's the overall direction of interest rates going forward that matters, not the degree of the increase.