The Federal Reserve’s announcement Thursday is a big deal.
It’s a big deal because of what they’re doing. They’re buying $85 billion in assets every month through the end of the year, and then they’re potentially going to keep doing it in 2013. They’re promising to keep interest rates low through the recovery, and then keep them low after the recovery strengthens.
But it’s a bigger deal because of what they’re saying. Thursday, the Federal Reserve said, finally, that they’re not content with 8 percent unemployment and a sluggish recovery, and they’re willing to actually do something about it. If you’re an investor or a business owner trying to decide what the market is going to look like next year, you just got a lot more optimistic.
That’s the weird thing about the Federal Reserve. We don’t just care about what they do. Because their power is so vast — the ability to make as much real, American money as you want is quite a superpower — we care about what they want in the future. And, until Thursday, we weren’t getting much clarity on what they wanted in the future, or how far they were willing to go to achieve it.
Think of it this way. The Federal Reserve is kind of like the economy’s tough, older friend. If the economy is having problems with some kids at school, and the tough, older friend seems distant, or uninterested, then the economy’s in trouble. But if the tough, older friend makes it clear that he’ll be there to back the economy up, come what may, and even says that he’s going to go have a talk with some of these kids tomorrow, then the economy is going to be a lot more confident walking to school from now on. And right now, what the economy needs more than anything, is confidence.