FOMC Meeting Announcement
Three rate hikes are still the FOMC’s call for 2018; now one down and two more to go. At this month’s meeting the FOMC raised the federal funds target rate by 25 points as was expected, to a midpoint of 1.625 percent within a range of 1.50 and 1.75 percent, the FOMC forecasts still have 2.1 percent as the median projection for the end of they year. The statement emphasizes “moderation” with descriptions of the economy generally moved down from the “solid” category of the prior FOMC statement from the January meeting. The labor market is still described as strong but economic activity is now downgraded to “moderate” with both household and business fixed investments also down to “moderated.” The description for inflation is unchanged, the 12 month rate is expected to move up in the upcoming months and stabilized around the committee’s two percent goal over the medium ter. The statement also repeats that near-term risks to the economic outlook “appear roughly balanced.” Though the rate outlook for this year is unchanged, the FOMC projects that one more rate hike in 2019 at 2.9 vs. 2.7 percent in December’s quarterly projections, and at 3.1 vs. 3.1 percent for 2020. The projections for this year’s GDP is upgraded two tenths to a median 2.7 percent with projections for core inflations, holding unchanged at 1.9 percent for this year, increased by 1 tenth to 2.1 percent for both 2019 and 2020. The results of this meeting suggest that the policy makers do not see a risk of falling behind the inflation curve and are content to wait for the economy to accelerate through the year. The votes to raise rates at this meeting was unanimous at 8 to 0.
Fed Chair Press Conference
Fed chair, Jerome Powell is downplaying the significance of the FOMC projection holding at three rate hikes this year and not moving up to four as many had expected. He said that the rise in the FOMC’s forecast for GDP now at 2.7 this year vs 2.5 percent in the December forecast, is well above long term projections and may or may not, given the members’ separate individual assessments, reflect any expected boost from fiscal st6imulus and tax cuts. Powell noted that it would take significant gains in productivity and also further growth in the labor market to reach the three percent level. On inflation, Powell stated the committee continues to seek a two percent goal and downplayed the significance of increased projections for the core, now at 2.1 percent for 2019 and 2020. He said members are seeing only moderate increases in wages and price inflation and as of right now, not seeing any acceleration in inflation. Powell said high asset prices, including equities and commercial real estate in some markets, are a vulnerability to policy but he stressed housing, a key sector, is not overheating. On the administration’s imposition of tariffs on primary metals, Powell noted that members do not as of right now see them having any effect on the current outlook, though it was noted the Fed’s business contacts are citing these tariffs as a concern. Among the final details, Powell said that he is thinking about increasing the number of chair press conferences, currently at only four a year. Also it was noted that Powell has no inclination, despite the risk of higher borrowing needs from the government, to make any changes to the balance sheet unwinding.