A U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hike in September is almost certain according to many forecasters and investors, but the decision to tighten policy for the first time in nearly a decade is not as clear-cut as it may appear.
The U.S. and British central banks are scrambling to be the first of the majors to raise interest rates after a long period of unprecedented monetary generosity. It won’t happen immediately but both Janet Yellen, who chairs the U.S. Federal Reserve, and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney say there will be a hike this year (Yellen) or around the end of the year (Carney). Might this be a bit of a rush? Not everything in the world economy is as sanguine as the U.S. and British economies purport to be.
As the U.S. Federal Reserve edges closer to its first interest hike in nearly a decade, its critics are lining up into one of two camps: either the Fed is hopelessly behind the curve, and will have to grapple with runaway inflation very soon; or the Fed seems overzealous in wanting to get interest rates back to what it would call a normal level and instead should wait until late this year or next before hiking.
British wage growth will outstrip the Bank of England’s forecast this year but that doesn’t mean the first rate hike will come sooner.
We’ve been told for years that a meaningful pickup in wages – usually the primary driver of domestic inflation – was required to set the stage for interest rate hikes both in the UK and the U.S.
San Francisco Fed President John Williams believes deeply that monetary policy is data-dependent, so much so that he has printed the mantra on T-shirts that he is giving away coast to coast. On Friday at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., however, he didn’t discuss the current state of U.S. economic data or the stance of monetary policy. Instead, he focused on why forcing the Fed to follow a strict monetary policy rule to make interest rate decisions would be, well, a problem (http://reut.rs/1bmCfvB). It’s a view that a number of his colleagues, including Fed Chair Janet Yellen, have publicly embraced. Monetary policy — it’s independent. Sounds like something you could put on a T-shirt.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Federal Reserve’s April statement is its brevity: at just 560 words, it’s the shortest post-Fed-meeting statement since October 2012. In saying less about its much-anticipated first interest-rate hike, the Fed is nudging markets to pay attention to other stuff. Like, for instance, the April jobs report next Friday, and the May jobs report one month later. “The Fed is data dependent,” says Eaton Vance portfolio manager Eric Stein. “They’d like to get to a world where the market will react more to numbers rather than Fed meetings and statements.”