Minutes of the FOMC's July meeting released Wednesday revealed some Fed officials "viewed the actual and expected progress toward the Committee's goals as sufficient to call for a relatively prompt move toward reducing policy accommodation to avoid overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives over the medium term."
Among other hawkish notes, the evident dissent within the Fed raises the stakes even higher for Fed Chair Janet Yellen's speech at Jackson Hole Friday.
But the minutes also declared that "credit conditions in residential mortgage markets generally remained tight."
For this reason alone, Yellen should resist pressure to reduce the Fed's extraordinary accommodation, says Heidi Moore, U.S. Finance and Economics Editor for The Guardian.
"We still have this problem where we don't have enough lending," Moore says. "Mortgage lending is incredibly tight. It's not moving. Banks are incredibly stingy."
And while the Fed's most recent quarterly lending survey showed banks are easing mortgage lending standards, that's almost exclusively true for people with strong credit, i.e. prime borrowers.
"If you're going to believe this is a recovery, you really have to believe people have access to credit - that they can get loans for houses almost as easy as loans for cars," Moore says. "Loans for cars are very easy to get, almost to the point were subprime [auto lending] is a risk. Loans for homes are only nominally better" than they were during the recession.
Presumably, Moore isn't calling for a return to the bad old days of the early aughts, when anyone who could fog a mirror could get a mortgage. Instead, the issue is that "a lot of households are struggling with really high debt and very low savings," she says. "It's hard to get a mortgage loan, so people can't move to get new jobs. They're essentially stagnant."
Those who've followed Moore's commentary here or at The Guardian know she's been persistently skeptical about the state of the economy, which clearly feeds her view of what the Fed should -- or should't -- be doing.
Despite recent evidence of the economy emerging from its winter thaw -- including stronger-than-expected reports on housing starts and existing home sales this week -- Moore remains firmly in the glass-half-full camp.
"Got out to any Main Street and ask people if they're doing well economically and they are not. It's true in every city in the U.S.," she says. "There are a lot of things working against the middle class American family. While we may be satisfying the mathematical requirements of a recovery, we are not satisfying it to the point where Americans feel prosperous."
Indeed, polls consistently show many Americans believe the economy remains in a recession, including a recent WSJ/NBC News poll, which found 64% of Americans "dissatisfied" with the economy. This is no doubt a result of stagnant wages for average workers, who just don't "see" the recovery in their paychecks -- much less feel like the economy is gaining momentum.
Median U.S. household income was $53,891 in June, down from an inflation-adjusted $55,589 when the expansion officially began in June 2009, The Upshot reports.
So will Yellen heed the hawks or stick to her dovish guns? The Fed chair is expected to focus on the continued slack in the labor market in Friday's speech and Moore believes she will continue to resist calls to tighten monetary policy "for another year at least."
"The Fed doesn't have to answer to Wall Street's demand [to tighten] at this point, especially when you see consumers still struggling with debt," she says. "That is what's driving the economy and the Fed needs to serve them by keeping interest rates low."
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