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Trump Fed pick Judy Shelton calls for 50-basis-point cut to interest rates in July

She says she would have voted for the big cut in June

Judy Shelton, U.S. executive director for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in Washington in May. (Bloomberg News)

Judy Shelton, President Trump’s intended nominee to fill an open seat on the Federal Reserve Board, is calling for a large interest-rate cut at the Fed’s July meeting.

When asked whether she would support reducing interest rates by half a percentage point in July, Shelton said she would and indicated she would have voted for that size of a cut in June had she been on the Fed board.

“I would have voted for a 50-basis-point cut at the June meeting,” she said in an email.

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Wall Street traders anticipate a more modest 25-basis-point cut when the Fed meets to set interest-rate policy on July 30 and 31, but Shelton said there is justification for a deeper cut, citing weak economic conditions overseas.

“I do think global conditions and the clear monetary paths being signaled by other central banks are a factor in considering how much our own Federal Reserve might choose to lower on July 31,” Shelton said.

Shelton’s views echo Trump’s repeated calls for the Fed to lower interest rates. Trump argues the United States is at a competitive disadvantage because the Fed has interest rates at just shy of 2.5 percent, much higher than Europe’s zero rate and Japan’s negative rate.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump warned about “artificially low” interest rates. Now, as president, Trump wants interest rates to stay low. (Video: JM Rieger, Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

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“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.

Trump has attempted to push the Fed in a different direction by engaging in unprecedented public bashing of the central bank and by moving to nominate candidates to the Fed board such as Shelton, a former adviser to Trump’s campaign who shares his belief that rates should come down.

Fed leaders, including Chair Jerome H. Powell, have indicated they think global head winds and Trump’s trade war have dented the economic outlook enough to warrant an “insurance” cut in interest rates to try to head off worse damage. But Fed leaders have been careful to point out that the U.S. economy is still solid, with strong hiring and consumer spending.

Central banks typically reduce interest rates when there are signs of trouble, not when the economy is in a good place. Several Fed leaders, including Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed and Esther George of the Kansas City Fed, do not see any need to cut interest rates now, because of the economy’s health.

“I think as long as the economy’s doing well, if that continues, we don’t need accommodation,” Rosengren told CNBC last week.

Shelton, a conservative scholar with expertise in international economics, was highly critical of the Fed’s move to slash interest rates in the United States to near zero in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Some economists accuse her of flip-flopping on her views now that Trump is president, but she says her critics are misreading what she is advocating.

“Even a 50-basis-point reduction would still keep the Fed funds rate well above zero,” Shelton said. “The target range of 1.75 to 2 [percent] was maintained from June 2018 to September 2018 before two more increases were imposed.”

The Fed technically sets two interest rates when it meets — one is the widely watched benchmark rate, the rate banks use to lend one another money to ensure they have the required amount deposited at the Fed every night. The other rate is known as “interest on excess reserves,” the interest rate the Fed pays banks when they hold extra cash at the central bank.

Shelton said the Fed should stop paying interest in excess reserves, a practice she argues is “unhealthy” and results in the Fed paying banks “essentially . . . to do nothing” with the money instead of lending it out. She would like to see this eliminated in the next two years.

Fed leaders and many economists have defended the practice, arguing it is a much faster way to influence the economy and is utilized by central banks around the world.

Interest on excess reserves “is the critical rate,” Powell told Congress earlier this month. “That’s how we manage monetary policy. We’ve been doing that for really 10 years now, and we decided earlier this year that we would remain in that system.”

Many economists say Shelton’s views are outside the mainstream and would cause disruption in markets and probably force the benchmark rate down to zero as well.

“The Fed’s view on excess reserves is it’s a tool to give them greater control over short-term interest rates,” said Seth Carpenter, a former Fed economist who is now at UBS. “If you stop paying interest on excess reserves, short-term interest rates would fall rapidly, probably get close to zero.”

Shelton said she wants the Fed to return to the system it used before 2008.

“The Fed can engage in traditional open market operations to arrive at the target rate, i.e., by buying and selling government securities, of which it owns $3.5 trillion in its portfolio,” she said.


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