Dec FOMC Minutes: Next Hike In June

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After being on hold for a year the FOMC voted unanimously to increase the fed funds rate to 0.50-0.75% at the December meeting. The decision to raise the key rate was widely expected. Although the committee decided to make monetary policy slightly less accommodative there were only small changes to the previous statement. On the outlook for growth and inflation FOMC-members revised the growth forecast marginally higher while the inflation forecast was unchanged. However committee members’ median projection for the fed funds rate was raised slightly to include three rate hikes (one more than before) in 2017 and three more rate hikes in 2018. This is one additional hike this year compared to market expectations,

Reading Minutes from the meeting it becomes clear that members felt that uncertainty had increased substantially since the last meeting. Several times in Minutes it is mentioned that uncertainty regarding fiscal and economic policies had increased. However at this juncture it was agreed it would be too early to know what changes would be implemented and the potential impact on the economy. Nevertheless almost all members indicated that the upside risks to their forecasts for economic growth had increased since the last meeting as a result of the prospects for more expansionary fiscal policies in coming years and about half of them had begun to incorporate it into their forecasts.

However there were also downside risks and particularly the possibility of additional appreciation of the dollar was mentioned as a downside risk for growth in Minutes this time. A stronger dollar was also mentioned as a risk for inflation as it could hold down inflation.

It was also interesting to note that several members warned that if the labour market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected it could become necessary to adjust current communications about the path of the federal funds rate and to indicate that a less gradual pace of increases could become appropriate.

Overall Minutes suggest that members have become more optimistic on growth due to potential changes in fiscal and economic policies although participants agreed it would be too early to incorporate the effects in their forecasts at this juncture. Moreover several members warned that the pace of tightening might have to increase.

At this point we maintain our forecast of two rate hikes by the Fed this year with the next one expected in June. Indeed the improvement in US growth related indicators, a strong labour market and increased probability of more expansionary fiscal policy after the Trump win upside risks to our current Fed forecast has increased. On the other hand US interest rates have already increased significantly and the dollar has strengthened against most currencies since the presidential election in early Nov, causing US financial conditions to tighten. Given the fact the Fed has been very cautious in tightening monetary policy, few signs of rising cost pressure, and considering that Q1 growth tend to be disappointingly weak we think it is too early to change our call on the Fed already now.


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