A 48-hour effort by the Trump administration to soothe jittery financial markets did little to reverse the free fall in stocks Monday, as the president’s renewed attack on the Federal Reserve and the specter of a prolonged government shutdown further rattled investors already worried about a global economic slowdown.
With a single tweet Monday, President Donald Trump undercut his top economic advisers’ efforts to reassure the markets that he did not intend to fire Jerome Powell as Fed chairman. But Trump, who blames the Fed’s recent interest rate increases for the market gyrations, said “the only problem our economy has is the Fed," an assertion that exacerbated the worst sell-off on Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis.
The S&P 500 closed down 2.7 percent Monday.
The markets are trying to digest the confusing signals from Washington. On Saturday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin posted what he said was a quote from Trump acknowledging that, while he did not agree with the Fed’s recent interest rate increases, he did not have any plans to fire Powell. And Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said on ABC’s “This Week" that Trump now realized he lacked authority to fire Powell, his hand-picked chairman.
Mnuchin added to the economic jitters by announcing Sunday that he had called bank executives to ensure the markets were functioning properly, the type of discussions usually reserved for moments of crisis.
“It signaled a sense of panic and anxiety that didn’t need to be there," said Brian Gardner, an analyst at the investment banking firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “My first reaction when I heard it was, what has happened over the last couple of days that the market does not understand or realize? Is there something that Treasury knows that the rest of us don’t?"
And while Mnuchin and Mulvaney tried to reassure markets on the Fed’s leadership, there is still an effort within the White House to discern whether any legal rationale exists for removing Powell from the chairman spot, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.