Jerome Powell Brings the Dog and Pony Show to DC
Today we are using the occasion of fed chair Jerome Powell, semi annual report to the Senate about the state of monetary policy to check in with where things are in the macro realm. It's been an interesting few months where there has been so much crypto specific chaos that has been easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all ultimately in a risk sector that is caught up in the larger macro machinations. Now, the last time Powell testified before Congress was in June of last year. Annualized inflation was at its peak above 9%, a 40 year high, and the fed was just three meetings into what would become the fastest tightening cycle on record. The fed discount rate was at 1.75 percent, and the previous week at the June FOMC meeting, Powell had delivered the first in a string of four gigantic 75 basis point raises. Each of those represented the largest rate hike increment seen since 1994. The tone in Congress at that time was incredulous. Democrats were concerned that accelerated rate hikes would tip the economy into a sharp recession with massive unemployment. Republicans for their part took the opportunity to excoriate the fed chair for moving too slowly when inflation had begun to get out of control in late 2021. Both sides of the aisle were openly doubtful that the fed had the tools to tame inflation. Since then, inflation has come down dramatically, clocking in at 6.4% for January, and recording 7 straight months of reductions at headline inflation. The fed has taken rates all the way up to 4.75%, and forecasts that they are not yet considering an end to this hiking cycle. Now when it comes to this particular conversation on the hill right out of the gate, it was a political endeavor. Not that you'd ever really expect that it wouldn't be. Still, the talking points around inflation have clearly become more crystallized on each side of the aisle in the last year since Powell spoke to the Senate. This really showed right from the opening statements. sharad Brown, a Democrat, introduced the hearing with a long kind of weird rambling speech about increased corporate pricing power being the true driver of current inflation. He said quote, the broadening of inflation beyond commodity prices is more profit margin expansion than wage cost pressure. Brown raised concerns about the potential for fed policy to crush the working population with increased unemployment without actually addressing the root cause of inflation.