Fed emphasises flexible policy path after likely December hike

Fed emphasises flexible policy path after likely December hike

Fed emphasises flexible policy path after likely December hike

According Reuters, nearly all Federal Reserve officials at their last meeting agreed another interest rate increase was "likely to be warranted fairly soon", but also opened debate on when to pause further hikes and how to relay those plans to the public.

There might be fewer interest rate hikes in 2019.

"A couple of participants noted that the federal funds rate might now be near its neutral level and that further increases in the federal funds rate could unduly slow the expansion of economic activity and put downward pressure on inflation and inflation expectations", said the minutes. That would bring it to about the bottom of the September range of neutral-rate estimates from 15 governors and regional Fed presidents, who gave figures from 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

After bottoming out to new lows several times between October and November, 10-year treasury note and 30-year treasury bond futures have jumped to months-long highs on the run-up to the final meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.

Powell remains upbeat on the economy, forecasting continued solid growth, low unemployment and inflation near the Fed's 2 percent target. Many investors read the remarks as signalling the Fed's three-year tightening cycle was drawing to a close.

Powell's dovish comments mean the probability of accelerated pace of rate increases in the United States is rather low, and that should burnish the appeal of all emerging market assets.

Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics, said he expects two rate hikes in 2019, not the three the Fed has been projecting for next year.

A few participants also expressed reservations about the timing of the next rate hike, suggesting that the benchmark rate - which determines the cost of borrowing on credit cards, mortgages and other loans - may now "be near its neutral level" and "further increases" could slow down the economy's expansion.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed the Fed chair for raising rates too often.

One irony of the market reaction to Mr. Powell's word choices is that he has spent considerable energy during his tenure as Fed chairman trying to emphasize the uncertainty of these estimates and to fashion a more plain-spoken approach to central-bank communications.

The possible policy shift occurred at a meeting at which the Fed also resumed debate on how best to manage short-term interest rates in the future, a decision that could influence the final target size of the Fed's still-massive balance sheet.

He told an audience in NY on Wednesday, "Interest rates are still low by historical standards, and they remain just below the broad range of estimates of the level that would be neutral for the economy".

"Given the volatility you've seen recently, it's probably quite reasonable to expect a little bit of a bounce".

"What do you do?" said Powell in NY. At the same time, Fed officials are emphasizing they are becoming increasingly reliant on indicators and data to tell them that they are getting close to neutral.

As a result, "almost all" Fed members said a rate hike "was likely to be warranted soon". After mid-year, Ashworth said he expects that "a slowdown in economic growth to below potential forces (the Fed) to the side lines". Three of those increases have been under Powell.

Powell also underscored the importance he places on communicating the Fed's thinking in a way that people will understand.

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