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Fed defies Trump to hike key rate again

22 December, 2018, 18:48 | Author: Lawrence Cooper
  • U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as his nominee for the chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell speaks during a press event in the Rose Garden at the White House

Investors may have been swayed by the Fed's generally upbeat analysis and expectation of more rate increases than markets anticipate.

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the rate by 25 basis points to a range of 2.25% to 2.5%, the highest since 2008.

That would leave borrowing costs just above policymakers' newly downgraded median view of a 2.8 per cent neutral rate that neither brakes nor boosts a healthy economy, but still within the 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent range of Fed estimates for that rate. Asked how the Fed plans to communicate its future rate actions now that it has eight press conferences planned for next year, Powell started to say, "We'll have the ability to move eight times", before correcting himself: "Eight different meetings, not eight times". The president has complained that the moves are threatening the economy. We are absolutely committed to that mission and nothing will deter us from doing what we think is the right thing to do.

The Fed raised interest rates on Wednesday for the fourth time in 2018, and signalled "some further gradual" rate increases ahead. In this case, the switch from the three-rate hike to the two-rate hike suggests that the interest differential in 2019 would be lower than expected and hence the Dollar should decrease.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 415 points, or 1.8 per cent, and closed at 22,443. But bond prices surged, sending yields lower.

"The market talked itself into expecting a more dovish outcome from the Fed than they got", said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial. Setting the interest rate paid on required and excess reserve balances 10 basis points below the top of the target range for the federal funds rate is meant to foster trading in the federal funds market at rates well within the FOMC's target range.

"Today we raised our target range for the short-term interest rates by another quarter of a percentage point". Wednesday's was the Fed's ninth hike since it began gradually tightening credit three years ago.

USA junk bonds were sold off sharply, with their ETFs falling 0.9 per cent, the biggest decline since March 1.

All these factors could influence the performance of the economy and how many more rate hikes the Fed will impose. "And markets have to react, live, to that "on the one hand, on the other hand" that Powell has to play in this economy".

He said Monday on Twitter that "It is incredible that with a very strong dollar and virtually no inflation, the outside world blowing up around us, Paris is burning and China way down, the Fed is even considering yet another interest rate hike". But now, the risks of a surprise could rise.

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Powell, the Fed's chairman, emphasized the continued strength of economic growth at a news conference after the announcement.

On Thursday, Japan kept its policy settings unchanged, as expected.

"With the Fed stepping back, markets will be on their own in a way they have not been for decades", McMillan said.

In the morning, the Dow had jumped almost 400 points after Williams told CNBC that the Fed would pay close attention to the economy as it considered raising rates in the future.

Powell did bow to what he called recent "softening" in global growth, tighter financial conditions, and expectations the United States economy will slow next year, and said that with inflation expected to remain a touch below the Fed's 2 per cent target next year, policymakers can be "patient".

For now, most USA economic barometers are still showing strength. Arguing that the rate hikes hamper economic growth, Trump has openly questioned Powell's leadership.

"Appearing to respond to jaw-boning is something the Fed would like to avoid", he said. Its statement described the economy as strong.

So score one for the central bank's "lower for longer" strategy of keeping rates pinned down, its steady guidance that any increases would be ploddingly slow, and arguably its massive balance sheet that anchored home mortgage and other important longer-term rates. It predicts 2 per cent growth in 2020. While officials said risks to their outlook "are roughly balanced, " they flagged threats from a softening world economy. Economies in Europe and China are slowing.

There are also fears that the brisk pace of USA growth this year reflected something of a sugar high, with the economy artificially pumped up by tax cuts and a boost in government spending. And when that move only briefly buoyed confidence, Trump set off on an erratic bout of tweeting that rocked the markets even more. Auto and home sales have slumped as interest rates have climbed.


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