Call it a box, or perhaps even a paradox, but the Federal Reserve finds itself in an uncomfortable position heading into its first rate-hiking cycle in nearly a decade.
A central bank that has prided itself on transparency during its ultra-easy cycle following the financial crisis is now doing an awkward dance with a market not quite sure what to make of the road to tightening financial conditions.
The essential problem is this: When the Fed could have raised rates it didn't want to. Now that it wants to raise rates, it may not be able to, at least not without causing substantial turmoil in the same financial markets it has sought so strenuously to soothe.
The Fed hasn't raised rates since June 2006.
"There will never be a good time to raise rates off zero when you've been there for six years," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, told CNBC. "The Fed's screwed, essentially."
The extension of the central bank's dilemma, or box, or paradox, goes like this, as highlighted in Boockvar's argument: Zero interest rates were a response to the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression. The economy, though, is far removed from its crisis days. The recession ended in mid-2009, gross domestic product has been on a steady if uninspiring march higher and financial markets, which have received by far the most benefit from Fed programs, have soared. While all that happened, the Fed could have begun the tightening process without disrupting the recovery.