President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, for a short trip to the White House after returning from the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump: Federal Reserve is loving US manufacturing troubles

August 27, 2019 - 1:20 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump, who last week suggested Fed Chairman Jerome Powell could be an enemy, is now saying that the central bank "loves" the troubles U.S. manufacturers are facing.

The president's tweet Tuesday appears to be his latest effort pressure the central bank to lower interest rates more quickly.

But a former top Fed official is pushing back on Trump's repeated attacks on the Fed and Powell. Bill Dudley, former president of the Fed's New York regional bank, argues that the Fed should stop enabling Trump's trade war with China.

The Fed cut rates by a quarter-point last month and many economists believe it will reduce rates by another quarter point in September. But Trump has been calling for much more aggressive rate cuts of a full percentage-point to counteract the four rate hikes the Fed delivered last year which Trump believes were a mistake.

Dudley wrote in a Bloomberg Opinion piece that if the Fed were to accommodate the president, it could encourage him to escalate his trade war and increase the risk of a recession.

Dudley wrote that Trump's trade war with China "keeps undermining the confidence of businesses and consumers" and is worsening the outlook for the U.S. economy.

"This manufactured disaster-in-the-making presents the Federal Reserve with a dilemma: Should it mitigate the damage by providing offsetting stimulus, or refuse to play along?" Dudley wrote.

Dudley argued that if the ultimate goal is achieving a healthy economy, then the central bank should consider not cutting rates to cushion the economy from the adverse effects of Trump's trade war.

"What if the Fed's accommodation encourages the president to escalate the trade war further, increasing the risk of a recession?" Dudley asked. "The central bank's efforts to cushion the blow might not be merely ineffectual. They might actually make things worse."

Dudley acknowledged that his proposal goes against conventional wisdom that the Fed should not take positions on policy matters handled by the president and Congress, but rather just stand ready to cushion the economy from adverse effects of those policies.

But Dudley said he believes Powell, in a speech Friday to central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, may have hinted at a change in approach.

"He noted that monetary policy cannot 'provide a settled rulebook for international trade,'" Dudley said. "I see this as a veiled reference to the trade war and a warning that the Fed's tools are not well-suited to mitigate the damage."

Dudley said that by taking a harder line on future rate cuts, the Fed would discourage Trump from further escalation of his trade war with China by increasing the costs of such a move. He said it would also reassert the Fed's independence by distancing itself from the administration's policies and also conserve much-needed ammunition in the form of future Fed rate cuts if the economy slows further.

Dudley, who served as the No. 2 official on the Fed's rate-setting panel from 2009 until he stepped down last year, is now a senior research fellow at Princeton University's Center for Economic Policy Studies.

Another former Fed official, Richard Fisher, who was president of the Fed's Dallas regional bank, said he believes Dudley's proposal would open the Fed to criticism that it is becoming too critical. Fisher said in a CNBC interview that he believes Powell and other Fed officials should instead state more forcefully that any Fed rate cuts may not be able to mitigate all the uncertainties created by trade frictions.

In his tweet on Tuesday, Trump said, "The Federal Reserve loves watching our manufacturers struggle with their exports to the benefit of other parts of the world."

Trump has repeatedly argued that the Fed's failure to cut U.S. interest rates more quickly is making the dollar too strong against other currencies and thus hurting American exporters, an argument private economists find fault with.

"I disagree with the president that a weak dollar is necessary good for the U.S. economy," said Sung Won Sohn, business economist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "To me a strong dollar is a report card which says the U.S. economy is doing well. If you look at countries with weak currencies, they are the ones having trouble economically."