Traders in futures markets have signaled a 77.5% probability of a quarter percentage point cut at next week’s Federal Reserve meeting and a 22.5% chance of a half percentage point cut, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.
Mortgage investors closely monitor the actions and statements of the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, when deciding the coupon rates they’ll accept – effectively, what mortgage rates people pay for their homes.
An unlikely voice weighed in on Monday advocating for the bigger cut: Judy Shelton, President Donald Trump’s intended nominee for the Fed's Board of Governors, whose members vote on monetary policy as part of the FOMC.
While her name hasn’t been officially submitted to the Senate for confirmation, Trump said in a tweet three weeks ago that he planned to nominate Shelton and Christopher Waller for the Fed board's two empty seats.
“Even a 50-basis-point reduction would still keep the Fed funds rate well above zero,” Shelton said in an email sent to the Washington Post, referring to a half percentage point cut. “I would have voted for a 50-basis-point cut at the June meeting,” she said.
It’s unusual for nominees – or in this case, a potential nominee – to weigh in on central bank policy decisions, and for Shelton in particular it’s an unlikely position to take because she was so critical about the Fed’s decision to cut interest rates to near-zero in 2008 as the housing crash pushed the U.S. financial system toward the edge of collapse.
In her high-profile statement in favor of a big cut to the benchmark rate, Shelton is echoing the mantra of Trump, who has pilloried the Fed and ridiculed Chairman Jerome Powell after the central bankers raised rates last year to avoid inflation after the Republican tax cut put the economy on a sugar high. Traditionally, U.S. presidents refrain from out-loud criticism of the Fed to avoid politicizing monetary policy and eroding the central bank’s credibility with financial markets.
“With almost no inflation, our Country is needlessly being forced to pay a MUCH higher interest rate than other countries only because of a very misguided Federal Reserve. In addition, Quantitative Tightening is continuing, making it harder for our Country to compete,” Trump tweeted Monday.
The Wall Street Journal’s Central Banks newsletter said a smaller cut was likely:
“The Federal Reserve appears prepared to cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point next week. While market expectations for a half-point cut had been on the rise recently, a move that size looks unlikely as officials have said they don’t see signs of an imminent economic downturn. If the Fed does cut rates next week, it will join the global drift toward easier monetary policy, as central banks look to keep long-running economic expansions on track.”