Is Rising Inflation Sinking the Fed’s Credibility?


Once again, official inflation numbers have exceeded Wall Street estimates, with June inflation coming in at 9.1%. Even worse than the rising year-on-year inflation, however, is the 1.3% month-to-month inflation, which equates to a nearly 17% annualized rate of inflation. That shows that, far from even starting to tame inflation, the Federal Reserve still has a long way to go.

This rising inflation risks bringing the Fed’s credibility as an inflation fighter into question. We all know by now that the Fed should have been hiking the federal funds rate earlier. Now it is playing catch-up, with rumors of a 100 basis point interest rate hike at its monetary policy meeting later this month.

What everyone wants to know, however, is if this is going to be another case of too little, too late. Or in a worst case scenario, could the Fed make a coming recession even worse?

The Fed’s Depression Problem

Federal Reserve monetary policy for decades has been informed by the ghost of the Great Depression. To Fed officials, the Fed’s mistakes at the outset of the crisis made the Great Depression worse than it otherwise would have been.

The mistake that the Fed made was to actively shrink the money supply after the Depression had started. It was this monetary contraction, after years of monetary expansion during the 1920s, that in the Fed’s view worsened the Depression and helped result in bank failures, business bankruptcies, and a severe depression.

Because of that the Fed has been very hesitant to unwind its loose monetary policy. It has expanded its balance sheet, engaged in quantitative easing (QE), and grown the money supply. But it has been unwilling to do anything to actively shrink the money supply. Until now, that is.

Monetary Contraction

If you look at the monetary base, the so-called “high-powered money,” you’ll see that the Fed has begun to shrink it significantly, with a nearly 10% contraction so far this year. The only other time the Fed tried to shrink the monetary base was during its last short-lived bout of balance sheet reduction and monetary tightening, from 2017 to 2019.

Even that round of tightening wasn’t as sharp or severe as the Fed’s current round of tightening. What’s interesting is that this monetary base reduction started occurring before the Fed’s balance sheet reduction began. And so far the monetary base contraction hasn’t shown up in overall money supply figures.

Figures for both M1 and M2 are largely flat for the year, indicating that, while the money supply may not be actively increasing, it hasn’t started contracting yet. In part that’s only natural to see, as monetary policy generally works with lags, and it can take months before a monetary policy action sees effects rippling throughout the broader economy.

That’s why we’re still seeing inflation (consumer prices) rising, even though the money supply is largely flat and the monetary base is shrinking. Now we have to wonder how long it will take before this contraction of the monetary base shows up in the form of a decreased money supply. But what happens if this monetary base contraction doesn’t shrink the money supply?

If you look at money supply figures for M1 and M2 during the Fed’s last round of balance sheet reduction, you’ll see that the reduction in the monetary base from 2017 to 2019 didn’t actually result in a decrease in M1 or M2. They continued growing as they always had. And this leads to one very important question.

Has the Fed Lost the Ability to Control Inflation?

If you posit that the Fed’s loose monetary policy of the past several decades has been the cause of an increase in the money supply, then you would expect that if the Fed starts not just to cease its loose monetary policy but also to actively undertake measures to tighten monetary policy (i.e. actively destroying money rather than just slowing the rate of money creation), then the Fed should be able to shrink the money supply and thus bring down inflation.

But if balance sheet reduction and monetary base contraction don’t actually bring down money supply numbers, and if consumer prices continue to rise, it would seem to undercut the argument that the Fed can actually influence inflation, or at least that the Fed can push inflation lower.

The Fed has been a one-trick pony for decades, solving every economic problem with more money creation. But if its inflation-influencing ability only works in one direction, increasing inflation, and not in the other direction, decreasing inflation, then markets could really start to panic.

Despite the Fed’s complete and utter monetary mismanagement of the past several decades, and its policies from 2020 onward that resulted in our current bout of inflation, markets have generally trusted that the Fed will get it at least somewhat right at some point. But if that trust breaks down, all bets are off.

The Risk of Trusting the Fed

The Fed is certainly not doing itself any favors with its conduct of monetary policy thus far. It is so behind the curve that inflation is still growing by leaps and bounds even though the monetary spigot has been not only turned off but also has begun to operate in reverse. And the longer this happens, the less confidence investors and consumers are going to have that the Fed knows what it’s doing and can actually bring inflation under control.

In the event that the Fed really screws things up, we could be looking at a rerun of the 1970s, with entrenched stagflation and a Federal Reserve that throws everything at the wall to see what will stick. Imagine a severe recession like 2008, but that lasts for years. That’s the worst case scenario that we could experience.

If you’re worried about the Fed’s ability to fight inflation, and you’re worried about the effect inflation will have on your finances, maybe it’s time for you to start thinking about protecting yourself against the possibility of stagflation and recession. Many Americans have already started doing that, with many thousands already buying gold to help safeguard their savings.

With a gold IRA, you can enjoy the benefits of owning physical gold coins or bars while maintaining the tax advantages of an IRA account. And you can fund your gold IRA with a tax-free transfer from an existing 401(k), 403(b), TSP, IRA, or similar retirement account.

Gold’s performance during the stagflation of the 1970s made it one of the few bright spots of that era, with annualized gains of over 30% over the course of the decade. And if it repeats that type of performance during this new era of inflation, gold owners could benefit greatly from their decision to protect their wealth with gold.

Don’t allow the savings you’ve built up for decades to fall victim to a Federal Reserve that doesn’t know what it’s doing. Call Goldco today to learn how gold can help you safeguard your savings against inflation.

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About the Author: Paul-Martin Foss