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Trump wants the Fed to hike rates for all the wrong reasons

Donald Trump
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Donald Trump

On Monday, Donald Trump weighed in on the Federal Reserve's current interest rate policy saying that it needs to change in order to, essentially, make a real economy out of a "false economy. He added that rates are being held down so that everything else doesn't go down.

But if the economy is being propped up, even artificially, how does that square with Mr. Trump's constant assertion that the economy is in the worst shape in the history of the Union?

And, by the way, as false economies go, this one is not so bad. The unemployment, and underemployment, rates are at cycle lows. Car sales, though slowing, remain near record levels. Home sales are strengthening. Wages are edging higher, though inflation remains somewhat subdued.

Mr. Trump offered no rationale, nor an alternative, to the Fed's current policy stance that would keep everything else up, assuming that raising rates would make a real stock market out of our current "artificial" one.

Again, the stock market being artificially propped up by the Fed doesn't entirely square with reality, despite that constant complaint from stock market bears.

It's true that stocks and bonds got quite a boost from Fed policies, but that was not the sole factor driving equity prices higher after a savage bear market from October 2007 to March of 2009.

First, the market has been, effectively, flat since the end of 2014, as a multi-quarter profits recession ensued. This sideways move has not been indicative of a raging bull market in the last 18 months.

Prior to that, however, the percentage gains in the stock market, from the March 2009 lows to the 2014 highs, tracked, almost exactly, the percentage gain in corporate profits.

He is not arguing that the Fed needs to take away the punch bowl before the party gets going. Indeed, in Trump's persistent assessments, the economic party never even started.

His argument seems more politically motivated than economically sound. He also argued that the Fed is politically motivated, working to help both President Obama and, by extension, Hillary Clinton.

Importantly, he also breaks with a long-held tradition of presidential candidates, and sitting presidents, to, at least publicly, refrain from telling the Fed what to do.

He has also, on multiple occasions, suggested the U.S. stock market is unsafe, further undermining the already declining faith in U.S. markets.

Having said that, the Fed appears to be readying an interest rate hike, either this month, or before the year is out, irrespective of Trump's point-of-view.

The Fed, indicating that its employment and inflation goals have largely been met, wants to further move toward interest rate normalization for a variety of reasons, from keeping inflation from rising above target to maintaining financial market stability.

Mr. Trump, who told CNBC earlier in the year, that as the "king of debt," he loves low interest rates. Well, he should. He loves to borrow tons of money to fund his businesses and then, often, default on the money he owes to his multiple constituencies. It's a great job if you can get it.

However, in the real world, many do not have that luxury. And while higher interest rates would assist savers, to a degree, the faulty rationale for raising rates is found in Mr. Trump's own commentary.

His argument that the Fed is propping up the economy is right. That's the Fed's job. Taking away that prop might adversely affect the markets and the economy, which he already argues is weak.

A rate hike might help Mr. Trump's political aspirations, if, for instance, the market tumbled and the economy weakened just as the election approaches.

But, as with many of Mr. Trump's businesses endeavors, he would be helped immeasurably from a downturn, while his most important constituents, average Americans, would sadly and, as always, foot the bill.


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

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