The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by 75bp to a range of 0 to 0.25 percent, the lowest level that this generation has ever seen.
In our FOMC preview, we talked about how the Fed may consider adopting a BoJ style rate cut that takes interest rates somewhere between 0.25 and 0 percent. Although that was exactly what we saw today, we expected it to happen in March and not December. The Fed has taken another page out of the Bank of Japan’s book and will continue to follow in the footsteps of the Japanese central bank as they formally adopt Quantitative Easing even though they refuse to use those words explicitly.
It is no surprise to see the US dollar selling off aggressively as it is now the lowest yielding G10 currency. This was the right move for a central bank that wants to be proactive and no longer just reactive. There is no point for the Federal Reserve to play games anymore by denying what is already being priced into the markets. Cutting interest rates to 0.25 percent was inevitable and they rather deliver this stimulus now than later. Fed funds were trading as low as 0.15 percent going into the FOMC meeting. The Federal Reserve expects to keep interest rates at “exceptionally low levels for some time,” and to employ all available tools going forward including the purchase of long term Treasuries. In other words, the Federal Reserve is telling us that they are formally moving to Plan B, which is Quantitative Easing.
There is no question now that the Federal Reserve is the most aggressive central bank. Since 2007, they have cut interest rates by 500bp and since the beginning of year, they have cut by 325bp. With the economic outlook weakening and the financial markets remaining quite restrained, the Fed wanted to over rather than under deliver. This morning’s consumer price numbers also raises the risk of deflation, which may have pushed the Federal Reserve to make the larger move. The Fed did not indicate in the FOMC statement whether zero interest rates are still on the table, but an interest rate of 0.25 percent is just as bad.
The US dollar has embarked on a new downtrend and today’s interest rate decision only cements that. We expect more dollar weakness in the first half of 2009. There is a reasonable chance that USD/JPY could fall to 85 and the EUR/USD could break 1.43. And of course, I still love the AUD/USD trade.
Comparing the FOMC Statements:
FOMC Statement December 16, 2008