Fed’s Brainard suggests she supports interest rate cuts

Published: June 21, 2019 2:31 p.m. ET

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Central bank should follow risk management approach by ‘softening the expected path of policy,’ Fed governor says

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Senior economics reporter
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Fed Governor Lael Brainard is the only one of the five Fed governors who was not nominated by President Donald Trump.

Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on Friday suggested she would support interest rate cuts in coming meetings to guard against downside risks to the economy.

In a speech at a Cleveland Fed conference with the community in Cincinnati, Brainard said “important downside risks” have emerged in recent weeks.

“Crosscurrents from policy uncertainty have risen since early May, crimping business investment plans, raising concerns in some financial market segments, and weighing on global growth prospects,” she said. Indicators of inflation has been disappointing, she added.

“The downside risks, if they materialize, could weigh on economic activity. Basic principles of risk management in a low neutral rate environment with compressed conventional policy space would argue for softening the expected path of policy when risks shift to the downside,” she said.

Julia Coronado, a former Fed staffer and now the president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, said that Brainard was supporting a monetary policy easing.

“I think she actually means lowering interest rates,” Coronado said.

Brainard said she was worried about lower rates adding to financial market imbalances but that would not stop her from supporting an easing.

The best way to address financial imbalances is by using macroprudential tools, like activating the Fed’s countercyclical capital buffer, rigorous use of stress tests and beefed-up monitoring of leveraged lending, she said.

The Fed on Wednesday voted 9-1 to hold interest rates steady.

Read: Fed holds interest rates steady, removes ‘patient’ pledge

A traditional “quiet period” after the two-day policy meeting ended Friday morning and three officials have now backed a rate cut.

Coronado said she thought the Fed would move at the next meeting at the end of July and said the only debate was whether the move would be a quarter-point or half-point cut.

“I don’t think they would send a strong a signal at the June meeting as they did without fully intending to lower rates in July,” she said.

Brainard is the only one of the five Fed governors who was not nominated by President Donald Trump.

The other two officials who have backed rate cuts are two of the most dovish regional Fed bank presidents, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard and Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari.

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida did not specifically back a rate cut, saying only the central bank would “act as appropriate” to sustain the expansion.

Read: Fed’s Bullard says he wanted interest rate cut while Clarida says case for accommodation has increased

Coronado said the Fed didn’t cut rates at the June meeting but argued Fed Chairman Jerome Powell effectively engineered an easing with his press conference and the dot-plot projections.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.67%  was up by 40 points in late afternoon trading.

Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @grobb2000.

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