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Fed rate hike will expose 'naked swimmers'

The just released minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent policy-setting meeting clearly suggest that the Fed is intent on raising interest rates less than a month from today.

"… it may well become appropriate to initiate the normalization process at the next meeting, provided that unanticipated shocks do not adversely affect the economic outlook …" (FOMC Minutes)



Seems like Goldilocks has met the Wiz, with the Fed seeing the economy and markets as "just right" and ready for normalization, though throughout the minutes, officials also point out that they will "ease on down the road" as they direct interest rate policy in the months ahead.

The frequency and intensity of future rate hikes will be extremely important to market and economic performance going forward. In that regard, if the Fed does raises rates in mid-December, its news conference communications will be critical in setting market expectations for what the cost of money will likely be throughout 2016.



The caveats that the Fed continues to hold out as possible reasons to hold off on raising rates remain interesting to me. The Fed is indicating that a rate hike is coming in December, " … provided that unanticipated shocks do not adversely affect the economic outlook and that incoming data" support normalization.

Since the Fed's most recent meeting, retail sales data have weakened noticeably, inflation has fallen further from the Fed's 2 percent target, oil is slipping below $40 per barrel and Paris has been rocked by terror.


While each event, in and of itself, is not enough to stay the Fed's hand, taken in sum, economic and geopolitical risk appear to be rising, not falling. Add to recent developments Japan's descent into recession, more weakness in China's real estate and banking sectors and a general softness in global economic activity, which continues to constrain U.S. exports and U.S. corporate profitability.

On its own, the U.S. could handle a quarter-point rate hike. The world … maybe not so much. The Fed identified some areas of speculative risk in the commercial real estate markets, as credit spreads have widened.



There is froth in other corners of the global markets whose valuations could be hurt by the December liftoff.

On the one hand, I am happy that the Fed thinks the U.S. is strong enough to handle normalization. On the other hand, the goldilocks economy is solely present in the U.S. and nowhere else in the world.


Pockets of high leverage, intense speculation and lower credit standards have emerged in recent months. I prefer the Fed handle those with macro-prudential regulation and not interest rate policy.

As Warren Buffett has suggested, you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. The Fed may soon find out which levered players in the world can handle a rate hike, and which can't.

Let's hope Goldilocks and the Wiz are appropriately attired for the December tides.

Commentary by Ron Insana, a CNBC and MSNBC contributor and the author of four books on Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @rinsana.