Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve will make it out of 2015 having raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade -- but just barely. The December rate hike brings the federal funds rate to 0.25%, up from 0%.
Over its history, the Federal Reserve has used its rate-setting-ability to try to stabilize the economic situation of the country. That tool has effectively been off the table as rates stayed at zero for almost seven years.
So, let's look back at the last ten years of U.S. monetary policy to see what we can learn about where the Fed has been -- and where it might be going.
Ben Bernanke: 2006-2014
Ben Bernanke led the Federal Reserve after Alan Greenspan, a Fed Chair much celebrated in his time (his legacy is being looked over again and some say he wasn't as good as once thought).
2006: There were a total of three rate hikes of 25 basis points each. On June 29, 2006, the rate was raised to 5.25% after 17 consecutive quarter-point increases since 2004.
2007: Crisis: The Great Recession of 2007-2009 (some say worse than the Great Depression in 1930s).
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Rates were increased initially and later aggressively cut back during the start of one of the worst crisis in U.S. financial history. Zero Interest Rate Policy was adopted and target inflation was set to 2%. Quantitative Easing, which helped add liquidity to a dry credit market was initiated by the Fed in 2013. It was the first of three rounds that eventually saw trillions added to the monetary supply -- and the Fed's balance sheet.
Also, oil prices soared, while the U.S. dollar fell more than 11% on the U.S. dollar index only to bounce back in December. The air in the housing bubble started to leak and home sales plunged. The Fed slashed interest rates three time this year to 4.25%: September by 50 basis points, October by 25 and December by 25.
2008: This year saw the Fed aggressively cutting down interest rates as the U.S. showed all signs of a meltdown. With the fall of Lehman Brothers, the financial system was on the verge of collapse. There were seven rate cuts, bringing down the interest rate from 3.5% to close to a zero.
2009-2014: In 2010, Ben Bernanke testified before 2008 Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission about the Fed's actions during the crisis. The panel of the commission accused financial institutions of greed and blamed the Fed chairman for not foreseeing the crisis but then playing a "crucial role in the response."
Starting in 2013, Quantitative Easing, the bond-buying program by the Fed was initiated to jump-start a healthy business environment and trigger economic growth. Interest rates were kept at zero but in mid-January talks of the first rate hike in years started bubbling to the surface.
Janet Yellen: 2014-Present
2014: On February 3, Yellen was appointed the chairman of the Federal Reserve. She ended Quantitative Easing in October after putting the final touches of adding more than $3.5 trillion to the Fed balance sheet. While there were talks of an interest rate hike, factors like employment and inflation were huge concerns that kept the Fed dovish.
2015: With employment improving and "economic activity expanding at a moderate pace," the chances of an interest rate hike increased -- as did expectations of a hike. In its last meeting for 2015, the Fed announced an increase of 25 basis point. With the U.S. economy close to full employment, according to Yellen, the Fed felt it needed to act to "normalize" rates, starting "gradually."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.