It is Fed Day in America.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release its latest monetary policy statement at 2:00 p.m. ET along with an updated outlook for the economy, all of which will be followed by a press conference from Fed chair Janet Yellen at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Expectations are that the Fed will keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0%-0.25%, but many expect the Fed will lay further groundwork for a rate hike as soon as September, a meeting that takes place exactly 3 months from today.
But in a note to clients ahead of the report, strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch note that even though we seem to be closing in on a change in Fed policy, today’s meeting might not give us the clues you’d expect.
In its note, BAML recalled the language used by the Fed in 2004 — the last time the Fed raised interest rates from a post-recession low — and said that the Fed wasn’t as “hawkish” as you’d think in foreshadowing that move.
BAML expects that the Fed will raise rates in September, and so back in March 2004, three months before the Fed’s initial rate hike, they note that the Fed said, “With inflation quite low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that it can be patient in removing its policy accommodation.”
Not exactly a harbinger of rate hikes to come.
Despite such dovish language the Fed two meetings later began a hiking cycle that saw the target for the funds rate increase by 25bps for 17 consecutive FOMC meetings! Plus, as New York Fed President Dudley has argued, in hindsight the Fed should have been more aggressive because going too slowly helped create the housing bubble. The point we are trying to make is that [today’s] FOMC statement is not the right place to be looking for hints about the timing of liftoff or the path of subsequent rate hikes.
Earlier this week, we highlighted commentary from Kris Dawsey at Goldman Sachs, who sort of took the other side of this argument, writing that, “The expected date of the first hike in the Fed Funds rate is closer than it has been at any point so far in the recovery… As a result, the signal from the June FOMC meeting will be especially important.”
Dawsey adds that the meeting’s “overarching message” will be that rate hikes are coming in September, though he thinks the Fed will want to maintain the option to push rate hikes out to its December meeting.
And so the core question ahead of today’s meeting, really, is how will — and how should — the market interpret the Fed.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the Fed will continue to stress its “data dependence” in looking to raise interest rates.
But with the market not really looking for the Fed to change course for another 3 months, or 2 Fed meetings (the Fed meets at the end of July but no press conference is scheduled), the question is whether or not we’ll get a firm a signal from the Fed this far out from its first move in 9 years, or whether it will be “more of the same.”
At least one economist — Torsten Sløk at Deutsche Bank — thinks that as far as “data dependence” goes, the Fed has gotten all it needs from the labour market. In short, Sløk thinks it is time to act, though this is a minority view.
And so again, the Fed isn’t likely to do anything on Wednesday, but the big question is how much they will do to telegraph their next move.
On the one hand, they haven’t done a lot in the past to tip their hand. On the other hand, they have never kept interest rates near 0% for almost 7 years before.
They are, after all, a bunch of economists.