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As Trade War Escalates, Fed Chair Powell Struggles To Maintain Stability

As Trade War Escalates, Fed Chair Powell Struggles To Maintain Stability
President Donald Trump and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at Powell's nomination to lead the U.S. Federal Reserve in November 2017.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell believes his job to be ensuring stable growth for the national economy, and President Donald Trump is making that job exceedingly difficult.

In response to Trump's application of a 10% tariff on $300B worth of previously unaffected imports to the U.S., the Chinese government announced a 10% tariff of its own on $75B worth of American exports to China on Friday, The Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, Powell was speaking at the Kansas City Fed's annual summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, carefully discussing the challenges such back-and-forth exchanges present for the Fed.

"While monetary policy is a powerful tool that works to support consumer spending, business investment and public confidence, it cannot provide a settled rulebook for international trade,” Powell said in prepared remarks.

The Fed reduced interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession in July, and Powell hinted that it may do so again at its next meeting in September, the WSJ reports. Though he claimed that the U.S. economy is still healthy with respect to inflation and job numbers, he cautioned that there is "no recent precedent" for monetary policy in the midst of a trade war.

“Financial markets have reacted strongly to this complex, turbulent picture," Powell said, referring to slumping international stock markets according to the WSJ.

Later on Friday, Trump added more complexity and turbulence by announcing on Twitter that in retaliation for China's new tariffs, he would increase all existing and forthcoming tariffs by 5%. He also called Powell an "enemy" on par with Chinese leader Chairman Xi Jinping, due to Powell's insistence on remaining independent from the White House, as part of a stream of tweets about the trade war.

Minutes later, Trump "ordered" U.S.-based companies to cease business operations in China and find alternatives domestically or in other countries, though his authority to dictate such decisions for private companies is extremely limited, the WSJ reports.

The increased pace of retaliations from both sides has added even more uncertainty for the global economy, as analysts now expect the trade war to last longer than any benefits a second interest rate cut from the Fed would provide, Bloomberg reports.