The head of the Federal Reserve System (FRS), Jerome Powell, warned of the long-term risks of a deep recession and a fall in US employment, urging Congress and the White House to take new steps to support the US economy. At the same time, he said that the Fed does not consider the possibility of removing the key rate from the current near-zero level to the negative zone, on the eve of the desirability of such actions, US President Donald Trump said.
The US economy may face the long-term negative effects of the coronavirus outbreak, as liquidity problems eventually lead to bankruptcies, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned Wednesday. He invited the US Congress and the White House to take additional measures to help the economy. According to him, fiscal support, although it will entail an increase in the budget deficit (now it is about 20% of GDP, a level of 10% was considered acceptable in recent years), but it will allow the economy to recover faster.
Mr. Powell described the role of the Fed as “covering temporary liquidity problems,” recalling that the regulator can “lend, but not spend.”
The Fed has already made three decisions on additional measures to support the economy in a pandemic. At first, the discount rate was reduced, then short-term liquidity was announced, and at the end of March the regulator promised for the first time to use the “whole set of measures”, thereby effectively removing the limit on the volume of asset repurchases. In addition, large-scale concessional lending programs for the business were initiated with a total volume of $ 2.3 trillion (this is approximately 10% of the country’s GDP, see Kommersant on April 10). For its part, Congress approved three aid programs worth $ 2.9 trillion, equivalent to 14% of GDP.
In the United States, more than 20 million people have already lost their jobs. Among those who were busy in February and whose income does not exceed $ 40 thousand per year, now 40% do not work. Given such a sharp fall in employment, consumption is likely to wait for a slow recovery, according to ING Bank. This, in turn, will put additional pressure on inflation – in April, prices have already fallen by 0.8% month-on-month (including excluding food and energy – by 0.4%).
Donald trump on the eve again called on the Fed to further reduce rates, bringing them into the negative zone. He noted that other countries are already benefiting from this (the ECB, the central banks of Japan, Sweden and Switzerland used this measure at different times). However, Jerome Powell said Wednesday after the speech that members of the Federal Open Market Committee of the Fed did not, in principle, consider such a measure. In his speech, he also pointed out that low inflation has been accompanied in recent decades by the accumulation of imbalances in asset prices. The experience of countries where negative rates operate is not considered by experts as unambiguously successful, they add to ING, noting that the Fed is unlikely to shift them in the opposite direction in the next year and a half.
One of the problems of the controversy surrounding negative rates is the perceptible gap between the conclusions regarding the effects of the transition to the “economy of negative rates” that politicians make from standard economic models and the more complex constructions that the Fed uses.
The main problem of negative rates is that this step can be discussed along with others only in the concept of “least evil” and in the absence of other alternative monetary policy options. For example, a short-term negative rate, all other things being equal, may be an acceptable solution to problems with a sharp temporary reduction in bank capital. In the general simplified case, the provision of money at a negative percentage with high risks in the economy provokes banks to the only rational behavior: to fix the profit generated by the Fed for free, without essentially getting involved in any substantial projects. In this sense, the program of conditionally addressless distribution of funds by the government, up to “helicopter money”, looks in most cases a more reasonable alternative to a negative rate.