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If the Fed doesn’t raise rates this month, the market could panic, Cramer says

The Federal Reserve could cause “panic” on Wall Street if it reneges on its widely anticipated December interest rate hike, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Friday.

“Because he’s promised a rate hike, [Fed Chair Jerome Powell] risks stirring a wave of fear if he doesn’t tighten,” Cramer said as stocks fell on weaker-than-expected jobs results and trade worries. “Investors will start presuming that something must be wrong, very wrong, that things are worse than they thought.”

But even if the central bank decides that it’s worth taking a more data-dependent approach after the weaker jobs data, its chief has put himself in a difficult position with his recent statements, Cramer said.

“No one wants the Fed to tighten going into a slowdown, especially when we might be in a tariff war around the globe. People want the Fed to be flexible. Thanks to his previous comments, though, Powell’s in a lose-lose situation,” he said, pointing to Powell’s remarksthat interest rates were “just below” where they should be.

“It would be wrong to tighten, but if he doesn’t give us a full quarter-point rate hike, it will cause a panic,” the “Mad Money” host said. “I hate to say it, Mr. Powell, but, here goes: I told you so.”

In fairness, Cramer said he “totally” understood why the Fed would raise interest rates this month, citing still-strong Purchasing Managers’ Index reports, healthy retail sales and close-to-full employment.

“The fact is, though, the economy’s slowing and the stock market sure shows it. […] That’s why it’s so skittish,” he explained. The major averages have endured drastic intraday swings this week as investors fretted about a host of economic pressures, including but not limited to the U.S.-China trade dispute.

Earlier this week, a “yield curve inversion” between the three- and the five-year Treasury yields also set off warning bells on Wall Street and spurred a sharp sell-off in stocks.

“Maybe a creative Fed chief could square that circle by holding off on a rate hike, but maybe selling some of the long-term bonds that they’ve been sitting on since the financial crisis — a different kind of tightening that would fix the inverted yield curve situation,” Cramer said. “Although, … ideally, you don’t want any tightening and the Fed would simply sit tight.”

All things considered — including the S&P 500 index turning negative for the year — investors should prepare for more market swings in the coming weeks, the “Mad Money” host warned.

“I think we’re going to have to slog through these volatility sessions for a bit, as there are all sorts of difficult crosscurrents here” including U.S.-China trade relations and the weakness in shares of stock market bellwether Apple, he said.

“And, of course, an errant Federal Reserve that’s backed itself into a corner when it comes to the next rate hike,” he added. “Get used to these crosscurrents, because this is the new normal, at least for now.”

Disclosure: Cramer’s charitable trust owns shares of Apple.

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