Wall Street analysts will be focused Wednesday on what Federal Reserve Chairman
says about whether the central bank might slow down interest-rate rises at its next policy meeting in December.
Fed officials have already indicated that they are likely to raise their benchmark federal-funds rate by 0.75 percentage point this week to a range between 3.75% and 4%. That would mark their fourth consecutive increase of that size as they seek to reduce inflation by slowing the economy. Some of the officials recently began signaling their desire to start reducing the size of increases after this week and to potentially stop lifting rates early next year so they can see the effects of their moves.
Those officials and several private-sector economists have warned of growing risks that the Fed will raise rates too much and cause an unnecessarily sharp slowdown. Until June, the Fed hadn’t raised interest rates by 0.75 point, or 75 basis points, since 1994.
“They have to think about calibration at this meeting. You’re trying to cool down an economy, not throw it into a deep freeze,” said
chief economist at KPMG.
Fed officials widely supported the supersize rate increases this summer because they were playing catch-up. Inflation has been running close to 40-year highs, but interest rates were pinned near zero until March. Debate over how much more to raise rates could intensify as they reach levels more likely to restrain spending, hiring and investment. The fed-funds rate influences other borrowing costs throughout the economy, including rates on credit cards, mortgages and car loans.
“They do need to slow the pace. Let’s keep in mind, 50 basis points is fast; 75 basis points is really fast,” said
an economist at Duke University who is a former senior adviser at the Fed.
December would be a natural time to slow the pace of rate increases because officials could use new projections at that meeting to show they expect to reach a higher peak or terminal interest rate than they had previously anticipated, she said. The debate over the speed of increases could obscure a more important one around how high rates ultimately rise. “Going faster now is about raising the terminal rate,” Ms. Meade said.
But some analysts say it will be difficult for the Fed to dial back the pace of rate increases in December because they expect inflation to continue to run hotter than other analysts forecast. Fed officials had expected inflation to decline this year, but that outlook has been in vain so far. They responded by targeting a higher destination for the fed-funds rate than they projected earlier in the year, resulting in the longer-than-anticipated string of 0.75-point rate rises.
Officials at their September meeting projected that they would need to raise the rate to at least 4.6% by early next year. “If you have broad agreement on that and inflation keeps coming in higher than expected, it makes sense to get to that peak rate sooner,” said
chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank, UBS, Credit Suisse and Nomura Securities expect the Fed to follow this week’s 0.75-point rate rise with an increase of the same size in December.
Meanwhile, analysts at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Evercore ISI see the Fed dialing back the pace of rate rises in December with a 0.5-point increase.
Economic data released since the Fed’s September meeting have been mixed. While domestic demand has slowed and the housing market is entering a sharp downturn, the job market has remained strong and inflation pressures have stayed elevated. Recent earnings reports have shown strong consumer demand and pricing increases.
Officials will see two more months of economic reports before their mid-December meeting, including on hiring and inflation. “Even if Powell provides guidance at his press conference, it won’t involve a commitment. That’s because the decision does need to be data determined,” wrote former Fed governor
who runs economic-forecasting firm LH Meyer Inc., in a recent report.
Some economists say the Fed will have to raise the fed-funds rate higher than 4.6% next year because of the resilience of consumer spending and domestic demand to higher rates so far.
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Strategists at FHN Financial expect the Fed to raise its policy rate to about 6% by next June. After this week’s increase, the Fed could accomplish that without another 0.75-point rate rise.
“The obvious dilemma for financial markets is many things can be true simultaneously, and a lot of them pull in different directions. The Fed could slow in December, but then still get to the 6% in our forecast,” said
of FHN Financial, in a note to clients Monday.
The Fed combats inflation by slowing the economy through tighter financial conditions—such as higher borrowing costs, lower stock prices and a stronger dollar—that curb demand. Changes to the anticipated trajectory of rates, and not just what the Fed does at any meeting, can influence broader financial conditions.
Many investors this year have been eager to interpret signs of a less aggressive rate-rise pace as a sign that a pause in rate increases isn’t far off, but a sustained market rally risks undoing the Fed’s work of slowing down the economy.
Any discussion by Mr. Powell about how officials see the potential for a higher rate path could temper any market exuberance about a slower pace of increases, economists said. “It is now about the destination, not the journey,” said
chief U.S. economist at Bank of America, in a report Monday.
Write to Nick Timiraos at [email protected]
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