Absolute zero: Lessons learned from the Fed’s zero interest rate experiment

By Kyle Campbell

Once a controversial move, lowering interest rates to effectively zero is now an accepted part of the Federal Reserve’s crisis playbook, despite the havoc that a rapid increase in rates has wreaked on the housing market and banks’ balance sheets. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he would not hesitate to take rates to their lower bound again in the future, despite the ramifications of that move present in the economy today…. Karen Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, said the Fed’s various methods have been effective in averting a complete collapse of the financial system. To that end, she said, the Fed does not need to remove any tools or put limitations on the degree of their use. Instead, Petrou said, the Fed should focus on how and when to pull such support back once crisis moments have passed. “The real question to ask is not whether tools like ultra-low, negative — in real terms negative — interest rates, and quantitative easing of enormous proportions are the wrong tools to use in an emergency,” Petrou said. “The real question is how long do those tools remain in the financial system and how much damage do they do when, as was the case in 08 and I think in 2020, the Fed is frightened to step back and let the market start to function.”