Bah, Humbug! Fed Chair Jerome Powell Gives America Financial Panic for Christmas

Fed Chair Jerome Powell Addresses Rural Housing Conference In Washington DC (Mark Wilson / Getty)
Mark Wilson / Getty

Americans may be wondering if there is something to President Donald Trump’s persistent criticism of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell after markets closed for the Christmas Day holiday in a virtual financial panic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst day of Christmas Eve trading ever, falling over 640 points. Analysts blamed Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin for announcing Sunday evening on Twitter that he had “convened individual calls with the CEOs of the nation’s six largest banks” and that he had determined that they “have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations.”

That implied there had been good reason for worry — and, indeed, there may have been, after the Fed raised interest rates by 0.25% on Friday for the fourth time this year.

While almost all of the data — aside from the stock markets —  still point to a robust economy, the rising interest rates have evidently weighed heavily on companies that took out large amounts of debt during the long period of quantitative easing that followed the Great Recession of 2007-9.

So despite the strongest job market in decades, rising wages, and economic growth well above three percent, Wall Street worries about liquidity threaten to put an end to the good times — thanks, in large part, to Powell and the Fed.

Some Trump supporters could be forgiven for suspecting a political motive — especially since some noted Trump-haters celebrated the market slide in the hope it will “shake Republican support for Trump.” The drop in confidence also coincided with Democrats winning the U.S. House in November, promising tax hikes and more regulations.

Ironically, the Fed may be doing exactly what it is supposed to do, according to the basic doctrines of Economics 101. Students in high school economics courses are taught the famous dictum of Fed chair William McChesney Martin, which is that the Fed’s job is “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going” — i.e. to slow exuberant markets lest they overheat and crash. Better to come down slowly than all at once, the thinking goes.

Likewise, the Fed may also be taking advantage of the strong economy to disentangle itself from private industry, and to build up interest rates that it can lower later in a recession. The danger is that Powell may be doing too much too quickly — leading to the very recession the Fed’s actions, theoretically, are supposed to prevent.

Stocks may well rebound in the new year. But for now, Powell has put a giant lump of coal in America’s Christmas stocking.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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