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The Fed: Fed’s Bullard expects a total of a half-point ‘insurance’ rate cut by year end, largely owed to trade jitters

Expect known dove St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard to again vote for a quarter-point interest-rate cut when the central bank meets at month’s end, a move he’s signaled in recent interviews and again on Wednesday.

And Bullard is likely to push for one additional quarter-point reduction by the end of the year, assuming economic conditions don’t change much, he said at an appearance at Washington University in St. Louis.

Bullard in June dissented from the Fed decision to hold rates steady and was in favor of a quarter-point rate cut then. He said in an interview with Bloomberg around that time that he thought a quarter-point cut would be a wise “insurance” move. But Bullard said he didn’t see the need for a half-point cut in one action.

Such “insurance” against signs of trade-related global growth slowing is still needed, although he doesn’t like to “pre-judge a meeting too much,” Bullard said Wednesday. Also important, according to Bullard, is “recentering” inflation expectations as the economy has continued to churn with inflation trending below the Fed’s 2% target. The Fed next meets July 30-31.

“The global picture more generally is impacting my decision-making,” said Bullard. “European data has been disappointing during the second half of 2018 and first half of 2019... Germany has been affected by global trade war, in particular.”

In a follow-up question on what kind of trade resolution might take away this nagging worry, Bullard said when the globe was shifting toward broader free trade, the issue rarely came up as a “mantra” of policy-making or market talk. Trade may be “top of mind inside the U.S. and may move around business decision-making, but it’s more important outside, fueling global slowdown concerns that could bring a sharper-than-expected slowdown in U.S.”

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell also had trade jitters on his mind when he told Congress on Wednesday that the U.S economy is suffering from a bout of uncertainty caused by trade tension and slower global growth and he pledged again that the central bank would act as needed to support demand.

The stock market

SPX, +0.45%

 gained on what investors deemed dovish Powell remarks and it remained higher as Bullard spoke.

Bullard was asked whether the Fed should allow for policy surprises for the stock and bond market, in order to fuel more regular up-and-down cycles, and whether markets have become too complacent that they’ll be bailed out by easy monetary policy, a so-called Powell Put. “In the [former Fed Chairman Paul] Volcker era, some would advocate that you should surprise markets. We’re not in that era... there is a lot of uncertainty out there... you don’t want to add any more...,” he said.

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The Fed has been a favorite target of President Trump and Bullard in June said he had been approached by White House officials “in recent months” about the possibility of serving on the Fed’s board of governors.

Bullard characterized the discussions as “exploratory in nature.” He said he told the Trump administration that he is happy in his current position and noted that he currently sits on the Fed’s rate-setting committee. But he declined to provide more detail or to specify the timing of his most recent contact.

Bullard in the Wednesday Q&A said the president’s real-estate background makes him “familiar and knowledgable” on interest rates.

“Every real estate [professional] I’ve ever met is always for lower interest rates... every politician too.”

But that outside chatter won’t sway the Fed from its stated goals of stable inflation and low unemployment. “We are doing well on our mandates. This is a committee that has made some awfully good calls over the last couple of years,” Bullard said.

Now the Trump administration has shown interest in the St. Louis Fed’s head of research Christopher Waller.

Bullard was asked Wednesday by reporters that if the Trump interest in Waller became more formalized and he, eventually, is approved, is he likely to be a champion for the looser rate policy that Trump has been so outspoken about?

“Chris will be his own person,” said Bullard. “If he’s fortunate enough to be awarded this prestigious position... our views are close, but he’ll have his own view.”