Fed may clear up a few mysteries for investors
The Fed says unemployment is already running below the level that can be sustained in the longer run, but wages are crawling higher rather than taking off
The US Federal Reserve’s two-day meeting in Washington, which ends on Wednesday, will be followed by a press conference with chair Jerome Powell. While the news will likely be an expected interest-rate increase, the Fed has plenty of topics to dissect.
Hot in here?
The US labour market is running hot, so a job market discussion is sure to be on the agenda. The committee’s 2018 unemployment projection may be destined for a revision, since it places joblessness at 3.8% by the end of the year and the data hit that level in May.
But more interesting is whether officials will cut their longer-run unemployment estimate—now at 4.5%. The Fed says unemployment is already running below the level that can be sustained in the longer run, but wages are crawling higher rather than taking off.
Forward guidance’s days are limited, according to Fed minutes and officials. As the Fed scraps the practice of pledging lower-for-longer rates, two statement sentences are in the cross-hairs. One says the “federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run”, and the other explains that “the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative“. The immediate query is whether those phrases will be dropped in June, a sign that a decade of market hand-holding is coming to an end.
Knocking on neutral?
Any details on the coming shift from easy to tight monetary policy will definitely draw attention. In March, officials had expected to cross that threshold in 2020.
Fed balance sheet run-off is playing out in the background but it has begun to sneak into the foreground. The effective fed funds rate is pushing toward the top of its range, which for years has been the level of interest on excess reserves (IOER). The Fed has signalled it is thinking about setting the IOER five basis points below the top of the target range. Upward pressure could come from technical factors, but there’s a chance that it’s a sign bank reserves are getting scarce.
EM vs the Fed?
Fed officials have been unfailingly chill about global developments in recent months. Powell has dismissed the role of US monetary policy on foreign financial conditions as “often exaggerated”. Yet as emerging markets suffer a rout, central bankers in India and Indonesia have called for Fed restraint. Against that backdrop, Powell is sure to field some globally-conscious questions. Any signs of nervousness could be a dovish signal.
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