Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) officials agreed to increase the Fed funds target range to 1.5 percent and 1.75 percent. This is the rate that banks charge each other for overnight borrowing, affecting consumer borrowing, such as credit cards and home equity loans.
Before the latest headline inflation reading, the Fed forward guidance had penciled in a 50-basis-point rate hike in June. Investors had been pricing in this level, but a red-hot consumer price index (CPI) prompted the market to alter its expectation and forecast a more hawkish central bank.
The Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points in March, marking the first increase since 2018. Additionally, rates were increased by a half percentage point last month.
Looking ahead to the FOMC’s interest rate projections, the Fed is forecasting 3.4 percent at the end of 2022, up from 1.9 percent in the March projection. It is also expecting 3.4 percent next year.
The Fed sees that the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index hitting 5.2 percent this year and 2.6 percent next year.
On the GDP front, the Fed projects that growth will slow to 1.7 percent this year.
The financial markets reacted favorably, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 0.5 percent, the S&P 500 climbing 0.8 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite Index rallying 1.5 percent.
The U.S. Treasury market was mostly in the red, with the benchmark 10-year yield down 6.2 basis points to 3.421 percent.
From Controlled Burn to a Wildfire
The central bank has been coming under pressure to rein in four-decade high inflation by being more aggressive in tightening monetary policy and employing enormous rate hikes. At the same time, the Fed needs to avert a hard crash, ensuring that the United States does not slip into a recession.
Powell and the FOMC are entrenched in a juggling act to balance economic growth and curb inflation. A chorus of economic commentators is doubtful that the Fed can fight inflation and sustain the post-pandemic economic expansion.
The situation comes down to the Fed being unable to admit the problem in the first place, says Nancy Tengler, CEO & CIO of Laffer Tengler Investments.
Since last year, the policymakers “shared a stubborn refusal to admit the problem,” she said in a research note. “The chaos resulting from their actions—and make no mistake, those poor policies straddle both parties—goes unrecognized, un-examined, unresolved, doomed to be repeated.”
Ed Yardeni, President & Chief Investment Strategist, essentially echoed this sentiment in a note on Wednesday, writing that the Fed has been behind the curve, turning “woke” in the process.
“Perhaps the most important similarity between the 1970s and recent events is the lame response of the Fed to the wage-price-rent spiral. The Fed was well behind the inflation curve during most of the 1970s and is now once again,” Yardeni noted.
Today, the U.S. economy is dealing with a trade-off: beat inflation with a recession or deal with soaring prices and maintain stagnant growth.
“[A] more accelerated Fed hiking cycle ultimately should help tame inflation pressures but will make it more difficult to thread the needle between lower inflation and a recession,” Deutsche Bank said in a note Tuesday. “We continue to anticipate that bringing inflation back down to target will require a meaningful hit to demand and rise in the unemployment rate, the latter of which historically does.”
There is a growing expectation that substantial rate hikes would halt business activity and spending, while also leading to greater job losses.
But everything the Fed will do moving forward will be based on data, which has been the modus operandi from before the start of the tightening cycle, says Robert R. Johnson, CEO of Economic Index Associates and Professor, Heider College of Business, Creighton University.
“Let the Federal Reserve raise rates in a very measured manner and there is a possibility that we could achieve a soft landing for the economy,” Johnson told The Epoch Times. “Reckless moves like some are calling for would preclude any possibility of a soft landing.”
He does anticipate that the year-end interest rate would be closer to 3.75 percent to 4 percent.
According to Jan Szilagyi, CEO of Toggle, an AI-based research investment firm with quantitative analysis, Powell and the rate-setting Committee had been helping financial markets prepare for an environment of slower economic growth by raising rates by 50 basis points until price pressures ease.
“A switch to 75 bps would definitely rattle that equilibrium,” Szilagyi wrote in a research note.
Be it 50 or 75 basis points, the main question now is if the Fed can avoid a recession, noted Tangler.
“We expected a slowing economy in 2022 and have made adjustments to strategies and overall allocations accordingly. And have been in the camp for a short and shallow recession in 2023,” she said.
At this stage, some contend that the Fed may not be doing enough to calm down price inflation since real interest rates are still negative. But what else can be done?
The Fed has some other tools in its arsenal, notes Szilagyi. One of these could consist of raising borrowing costs for longer-dated loans by signaling a faster pace of rate hikes or a higher ending point.
About That Recession
Wall Street appears to be split on the odds of a recession. Many financial institutions and analysts have placed the bets at 50 percent, while others think there is a decent chance that the U.S. economy could experience a soft landing.
The Philadelphia Fed Bank’s May survey of 34 professional forecasts revealed that second-quarter GDP growth is expected to be 2.3 percent, down from the previous estimate of 4.2 percent.
The Atlanta Fed Bank’s GDPNow model projects 0 percent growth in the April-to-June period.
But could a recession already be here? It would not be surprising, stated Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it started in the third quarter of this year,” he told CNBC on Friday. “You can say that we’re in the midst of it right now, in the beginning phase. Only in retrospect will we know for sure, but it should not surprise us at this point.”
In the first quarter, the U.S. economy contracted at a 1.5 percent rate.
The next two-day FOMC policy meeting will take place on July 26–27.
According to the CME FedWatch Tool, the market is penciling in a three-quarter point rate hike next month. But the talk on Wall Street is all about the September FOMC meeting. Will the Fed pause its tightening, go ahead with the original plan of 25 basis points, or deploy another 75 basis points?