Business Columns & Blogs

‘Boneheads’ and the borrower-in-chief : Name-calling shouldn’t help Trump get free money

The investment markets expect the Federal Reserve to cut its target short-term interest rate in the week ahead.

President Donald Trump is demanding it.

When the Fed’s interest rate policymakers meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will consider whether or not to cut the rate the Fed pays banks on money those banks keep at the Fed. The idea is that a low interest rate encourages banks to lend out the money, and for companies and consumers to borrow, thereby creating economic activity.

The last time the central bank’s rate-setting committee met, in June, it cut the target interest rate citing sluggish business investment. In explaining the decision, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell cited “trade developments and concerns about global growth.” It was a polite poke at the president’s ongoing trade war with China.

Hudson Head Shot - Smile
Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM, where he is the vice president of news. . .

The president has been blunt with his assessment of the Fed’s work ahead. He tweeted the agency should “get our interest rates down to ZERO or less.” His rationale for venturing into such unchartered financial territory? Bring down interest costs on government debt.

He’s not wrong. The interest expense on America’s debt was $32 billion in August — more than $1 billion per day. The average interest rate was 2.4 percent. That’s actually higher than a year ago.

“Once in a lifetime opportunity,” the president’s tweet continued, “that we are missing because of ‘Boneheads.’”

Trump and Congress have borrowed hard in recent years. America’s debt has increased by 13 percent, $2.6 trillion, since he took office. A half trillion dollars in interest payments were sent to holders of America’s bonds in the last fiscal year alone.

That means big interest payments to China, the second largest holder of U.S. government debt. The president’s call for zero percent rates isn’t so much a refinancing maneuver as it is another front in his trade war.

Name-calling helped get President Trump elected. It shouldn’t help him get free money.

Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM, where he is the vice president of news. Twitter: @HudsonsView.