Friday, August 19, 2011

An Interview with Richard Fisher

Richard Fisher, Dallas Fed president, explains his dissent on two more years of a zero interest rate target. He believes the Fed has created enough liquidity, but it's tax and regulatory barriers that have blocked growth and job creation. He also responds to GOP attacks on the Fed. You're looking at a future Treasury secretary here.

LARRY KUDLOW, host: Welcome back to this special edition of THE KUDLOW REPORT. We're continuing our discussion of today's stock market route, this time from the perspective of the Federal Reserve. We are honored to have a very special guest joining us this evening. Here now for an exclusive CNBC interview Richard Fisher. He's president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Richard, welcome. You picked a hell of a day.

Mr. RICHARD FISHER: Well, wait, wait, wait. Not only am I president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, but I've been a friend of Larry Kudlow's for over 30 years, since we were embryos.


Mr. FISHER: So we started out as babies, of course.

KUDLOW: Thank you for that. I appreciate it. All right, Richard, let me just get your general impressions. Today was another plunge in stocks. We're in the throws of a 16 percent correction. What's your reaction to this kind of correction? What do you think is behind it?

Mr. FISHER: Larry, I'm a central banker. I thought your panel, by the way, earlier was very informative and very helpful. The message on that panel that don't panic. I'm a central banker. The Federal Reserve does not panic. I think we watch things carefully. You and I both know that markets are manic-depressive mechanisms. There are always some trip wires there, depending on what people are looking for. I'd just like to make two comments.

One is on Philly Fed Index. It's a wonderful index. You might wish to note to your viewers that its correlation with the PMI, that is the manufacturer's index, is .08. The two of the Fed indexes that have a good correlation are the Empire State, and then, even more than that, believe it or not, is the Dallas Fed's manufacturing survey. So I think there's a bit of an overreaction there.

And then secondly, one of the key points that was made is you have to think about the kind of dividends that are there. As I understand it, if the numbers I looked at correctly today, 60 percent of the S&P 500 is out yielding the Treasury 10-year. So I think your panel's advice don't panic is very good. Certainly we at the Central Bank have to look at things in a very calm, steady-handed way, and we'll continue to do so.

KUDLOW: Richard, I guess a two-edged question. Number one, your assessment of the outlook for recession. You had a bunch of banks today, Morgan Stanley earlier...

Mr. FISHER: Mm-hmm.

KUDLOW: ...and I'm told, as we're on the air day, Citi is downgrading its economy, its economic forecast, as is JPMorgan. Do you think--do you personally think we're going into recession?

Mr. FISHER: I've said from the very beginning this is will be a slow slog. I think it'll continue to be a slow slog. You pointed out some numbers earlier, Larry, in terms of the retail sales number, the production numbers. There have been setbacks to that in terms of various surveys. But I still think we have positive momentum. I'm not saying it is sufficient momentum to create the kind of jobs we want to create in America, but I do think we're going to have a positive third quarter. And my own personal feeling is, at least before the debt ceiling negotiations took place, I was looking for 3 percent or so in the third quarter. Still want to see that. I don't know much a retardant that comic opera was on people's willingness to commit capital to build into hire or to consume. But I'm still of the feeling that we're going to have positive momentum, Larry.
KUDLOW: Well that sort of leads to my next question. It's a puzzlement question. I've never seen so much cash and liquidity around.

Mr. FISHER: Boy, you're right.

KUDLOW: Banks have more money than they know what to do with. Corporations have more money than they know what to do with.

Mr. FISHER: Mm-hmm.

KUDLOW: And yet they all seem immobilized, not investing it, not taking risks, not hiring. Why is that?

Mr. FISHER: Mm-hmm. Well, my opinions are pretty well known there. It's not because of monetary policy. We have filled the gas tank. We got lots of fuel in there. Someone needs to step on the peddle and gauge the transmission mechanism, and I really do think the corporations have been discouraged from doing so. Obviously they're worried about weak demand. But remember, we're a consumption driven country. Unless you hire people, you can't have more consumption because you won't have more employment. And there's so much confusion on the regulatory side. There's such an uncertainty, Larry, in terms of what kind of tax regime, what kind of spending and what kind of subsidies are going to be added to, taken away, what the incentives will be that come out of this group of 12, or if they fail, will be laid down. That, to me, is not only depressing production, hiring, CAPEX and all the good things we need to see, it's also scaring the heck out of the consumer.
If you had watched that whole debacle of the debt ceiling negotiations, I would have turned to--as I did--to my wife, `Honey, we just can't afford to go on this vacation,' or, `We can't afford to buy that gizmo or that service.' I think it is a retardant. We have to get more certainty. Business operates under conditions of uncertainty, as you know. That's the way capitalism works. But extreme uncertainty freezes decision making, and I'm afraid that's the position we're in.

The Central Bank has reliquefied the system. That's what the Federal Reserve has done. The fiscal authorities, however, have to incent people, or at least help incent people, to have the confidence to go ahead and engage, expand the economy, in addition, of course, to seeing the whites of the eyes of a stronger recovery. But it can't occur unless businesses are incented to invest and hire more people.

KUDLOW: Well, in terms of Federal Reserve...

Mr. FISHER: I have very strong feelings about that.

KUDLOW: Yes, I can tell. And that, you know, I hear you on that. I get that. I hear you completely.

Mr. FISHER: Yeah. Good.

KUDLOW: But I want to--let me bring it back to the Federal Reserve. You did dissent from the last meeting.

Mr. FISHER: Yes, I did.

KUDLOW: The two year extension of the zero interest rate target. In Midland, Texas, yesterday--apparently, according to all the reports.
Mr. FISHER: Mm-hmm.

KUDLOW: You said that that zero interest rate target for two years reduces business incentives to grow and hire. Could you expand on that, because it sounds like you're suggesting the Federal Reserve's interest rate policy, the zero target is itself a disincentive, an obstacle, and may be adversely affecting the stock market?

Mr. FISHER: Well, this is my personal opinion, but there could be the unintended consequence that in addition to not knowing how you're going to be taxed or what kind of spending patterns are going to change, how it's going to affect not only your company, but your consumer base. Now you know that you can wait to borrow because the rates are going to be locked in at very low levels for a two year period. So my suggestion is and one of my arguments was that this might well further retard recovery and commitment. Again, you can't have recovery unless we have employment go up, unemployment go down. We will not have that unless people decide to expand. And right now there's almost no incentive to expand, and I was worried--this is my personal opinion--obviously I was in a minority and I respect the majority of my colleagues--that this would be a further retardant.

KUDLOW: Haven't all these zero interest--it's been several years now that we've had a zero interest rate. Hasn't it just benefited the speculators, the traders, the hedge funds? Not that they're bad people, but I just want to say, if you can borrow at zero and invest in anything with a higher yield, you win. At the same time, it's doing great damage to savers. I mean, isn't this a lopsided policy?

Mr. FISHER: Yep. Well, again, I've voiced concern about that. There's always a cost-benefit analysis takes place. Clearly one of the costs--and we're all aware of it--is the people that played by the rules, as they got older--like you and me, Larry--began to save more, shorten up on a yield curve, particularly those who don't have the benefit of sophisticated advice, have really been hammered here because it--they're getting low, in fact, negative real returns on their investment, and I think it's hurting the poor, and I think it's hurting those savers, and I think it's hurting the middle class that have played by the rules, socked away some money for retirement. And that's one of the prices we pay to try to reliquify the system.

I'm a little concerned as to how tolerant those people will be over the long term unless they see a pickup over time in the returns on their savings. But...

KUDLOW: Well, I think there's...

Mr. FISHER: It's very, very hard for retirees, and you and I agree on that front.

KUDLOW: I think there's a--I think there's a demoralization going on out there by savers and by businesses.

Mr. FISHER: Mm-hmm.

KUDLOW: But let me ask another question. I'm not going political on you, I just want a general sense. Out on the campaign trail, many if not most of the Republican candidates...

Mr. FISHER: I know what it is.

KUDLOW: I'm not going to name names, just because they're--because really many of them are attacking the Fed, sometimes in very harsh terms. I think what people want to know, not so much whether this guy is right or that lady is wrong or whatever. They want to know what kind of impact this has, these attacks on the Federal Reserve.

Mr. FISHER: Well, first of all, I come from Texas, Larry, so I come from the history of Wright Patman and Henry B. Gonzalez, and at least one of the individuals you refer to is a Texan--at least two of the individuals you refer to are Texans. I understand their sentiment--that's sort of the way we're geared down here--but I worry about it from the standpoint of if they're pointing fingers at us, I'm worried they're not focusing on really need--is needed here, which is to change the whole fiscal mix to reboot the way we tax, spend, incentivize and get our economy moving again. That's what they do as leaders if they're running for the White House, as president, working with the Congress of the United States.

As far as the impact on our decision making, whether it's Chairman Bernanke or whether it is the rest of us that sit around that table, we just don't pay attention to this. I think it's very, very important you have a central bank.

KUDLOW: No attention whatsoever?

Mr. FISHER: It is independent.

KUDLOW: Front page story, no attention whatsoever.

Mr. FISHER: That it is...

KUDLOW: I mean, they're trying to put monetary policy and Fed and...

Mr. FISHER: That this...

KUDLOW: ...the dollar square in the middle of the campaign, Richard. You're saying it has no impact at all on the Fed?

Mr. FISHER: I think it's very important that we resist the temptation to react to that criticism any way, shape or form. We know, historically, when legislatures have taken over central bank functions, you end up with Argentina...republic, nationalist China and so on. So if we don't allow it to permeate our thinking, we just do what we're suppose to do for a living, then I think we'll stand in the best stead.

KUDLOW: All right, Richard Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. We appreciate your views very, very much. It's great to have you visit with us again. All the best.