Fed’s Bullard says global trade-policy uncertainty has abated



Greg Robb | MarketWatch

Global trade-policy uncertainty has declined, but policy makers must wait to see whether it has dampened enough to encourage global manufacturing, said St. Louis Fed President James Bullard on Tuesday.

Trade uncertainty abated as the U.S. and China signed a trade accord; Congress approved a revised version of Nafta, or North American Free Trade Agreement, with Mexico and Canada; and the U.K. approved a plan to depart the European Union, Bullard said, in a speech to the CFA Society of St. Louis.

“Let’s wait and see” whether the new environment will boost business investment, Bullard said.

Another question facing the economy is the coronavirus outbreak, which reportedly originated in Wuhan City, China.

China’s economy is expected to grow at a slower rate in the first quarter than previously forecast, Bullard said.

The key question is whether the outbreak is likely to be contained as other important viral outbreaks have been. Bullard said his base case is that the virus gets under control.

Experience with previous viral outbreaks “suggests that the effects on U.S. interest rates can be tangible and last until the outbreak is clearly contained,” Bullard said.

A third question to Bullard is whether interest-sensitive sectors will respond to last year’s three quarter-point rate cuts, which took benchmark rates to a 1.50%-to-1.75% range.

Overall, Bullard said he thinks there is still a “reasonable chance” that a soft landing of the U.S. economy will be achieved. A so-called soft landing is when the economy slows to its trend growth rate without collapsing.

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