Markets firmly expect the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates steady at its next meeting on November 1. This is in line with recent dovish comments from Fed officials and generally benign economic data. The recent rise in longer-term interest rates has also placated the Fed, as Governor Christopher Waller recently stated the Fed is inclined to “let the recent run-up on longer-term rates do some of our work.”
A potential interest rate increase for December or later remains possible, but, for now, the Fed is happy with how the economy is trending and the Federal funds target is likely to remain at its current 22-year high of 5.25% to 5.5%.
Governor Waller’s Comments
Waller gave a speech in the U.K. on October 18 that was generally positive in its assessment of the U.S. economy. Waller referenced “considerable progress” in the Fed’s management of inflation and noted a potential scenario in which, “we can hold the policy rate steady and let the economy evolve in the desired manner.”
However, Waller noted that inflation will be watched carefully and if the economy does not cool somewhat and if “inflation appears to stabilize or reaccelerate,” Waller argued “more action would be needed on the policy rate.”
Still, there is perhaps a change of emphasis with the Fed not necessarily looking to raise rates again from here if the trajectory for inflation continues, whereas previously another rate increase was more likely than not, in the Fed’s view.
Powell’s Recent Comments
At a speech in New York on October 19, Fed Chair Jerome Powell largely mirrored many of Waller’s comments saying lower inflation readings were “a very favorable development.” Though he also noted that the path to 2% inflation was “is likely to be bumpy and take some time.” He also stated that if progress on inflation were put at risk “there may still be meaningful tightening in the pipeline.”
Recent economic data has been encouraging to the Fed. Most importantly inflation has eased. It is not back to the Fed’s annual 2% target, but the rate of price increases is generally reducing. The job market continues to be tight with low unemployment, but the imbalances leading to strong wage growth are somewhat resolved, leading to an expectation that services prices will cool.
The picture for the housing market is a little more mixed, but here too, price pressures may be easing somewhat. Overall, the Fed is larger getting the data it was hoping for – cooling inflation and sustained growth. However, this could, of course, change over the coming months and the Fed is watching closely. If it does, we would likely see additional interest rate hikes.
Markets now give only a 1 in 20 chance that the Fed raises rates on November 1, and the Fed generally manages short-term rate expectations carefully, making a surprise unlikely.
However, expectations for another interest rate increase have shifted later and there is a 50% chance the Fed does increase rates by January according to the CME FedWatch Tool. That could occur if upcoming inflation reports are hotter than expected, or if the economy generally shows limited signs of cooling.
The Fed certainly is not ready to talk about cutting interest rates yet, though that may come later in 2024. For now, rates may remain at high levels for some time. Still, the Fed is becoming a little more optimistic that further rate increases from here will not be needed. Certainly, the Fed is unlikely to adjust rates in November.
Source : Forbes / October 19, 2023