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“Remember what’s at stake here. We are now in the midst of earnings season, where we can piece together a mosaic of what’s really going on in the economy. If the economy’s fabulous, then the Fed’s current course — one rate hike in December followed by three more next year — is correct,” the “Mad Money” host said after the Fed reaffirmed its rate-hike plans.
But if the economy turns out to be weaker than it appears, then the Fed’s moves could prove dire for both Wall Street and Main Street, he warned.
“If there are real pockets of weakness in the economy, then the Fed doesn’t need to tighten four more times,” he said. “Maybe business has already begun to cool. Maybe they’re well on their way to taming inflation. The point here is that we don’t know.”
Instead of trying to overshoot inflation with lockstep rate hikes, Cramer suggested that the Fed take a more measured approach.
“I’m not saying the Fed’s gone crazy. I’m not saying they need to stop tightening because it’s bad for the stock market. I don’t care about that. I’m simply begging [Fed Chair] Jerome Powell and the rest of the Open Market Committee to take things one rate hike at a time,” he said. “Because from what I’ve seen so far this earnings season, it might make sense to put next year’s three planned rate hikes on hold until we know if the nascent strength is dissipating before our very eyes.”
Still the only way to find out if the Fed’s right is to look at the data, Cramer admitted. And right now, he sees a mixed bag.
First, he pointed to the latest earnings reports from railroad giant CSX and airline operator United Continental, both of which were much stronger than expected and helped the Fed’s case for raising interest rates quickly.
“But … when you assemble the rest of the economic pastiche, you find some areas that are downright hideous,” Cramer said. “Housing starts … fell 5.3 percent. The apologists were out saying, ‘It’s the storms.’ Will you give me a break? That’s a shocking and terrible number.”
The housing pain spread quickly through the stock market, with Credit Suisse subsequently downgrading the stocks of homebuilders KB Home and Lennar as well as home-improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s.
“The pin action from that downgrade crushed all of retail,” Cramer noted. “I don’t like that — you never want to see a retail slowdown ahead of the holidays.”
And while CSX reported strong truck volumes, Cramer noted that the auto industry is experiencing a slowdown, with key suppliers PPG Industries and Trinseo pre-announcing earnings shortfalls and the stocks of Ford and General Motors taking the brunt of the pain.
Regional loan demand is also decelerating, “not a good sign” for an economy that run on credit, the “Mad Money” host said. And lingering in the backdrop is the U.S.-China trade war, which hasn’t yet trickled down to whole swaths of the U.S. economy.
“The tariffs are just now reaching Main Street, and while our retailers will pass on some of their higher costs to the consumer, the rest of it they may have to eat,” Cramer warned. “No matter how much the Fed tightens, they can’t roll back those tariffs.”
All of this told Cramer that the Fed would be best-served by taking a data-dependent approach to interest rates, something the “Mad Money” host has continually preached since the Fed’s most recent rate hike.
“The Fed seems to want to ignore anything negative,” he said. “Instead, they just want to lay down on the tracks of CSX. I’m calling them out as lazy and irresponsible.”
“After the next hike in December, they need to actually look at the data,” he continued. “Remember, this is supposed to be a market where good news is bad news and bad news means the Fed can take a more measured approach. The thing is, that only works if the Fed’s actually paying attention to the data. So we have to hope that our central bankers will be more flexible than they’ve implied they will be.”
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