As 2019 begins, many experts and even Federal Reserve members predict that the Fed is done raising interest rates, at least for 2019.
During the Fed’s most recent two-day December meeting, it elected to raise interest rates for the fourth and final time in 2018. Before the meeting, the Fed had raised rates three times in 2018 – the first time in March, again in June and finally in September.
And while some think the Fed has at least a couple more rate hikes to go in 2019, others aren’t so sure.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday that the U.S. central bank can be patient when it comes to further rate hikes, according to an article by Howard Schneider and Jonathan Spicer of Reuters.
Powell said since inflation is low, the Fed can be patient about its rate hikes, waiting to see how economics will play out in 2019.
“Especially with inflation low and under control, we have the ability to be patient and watch patiently and carefully as we … figure out which of these two narratives is going to be the story of 2019,” Powell said at the Economic Club of Washington.
And St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said that the Fed had “reached the end of the road” in this tightening cycle.
“The Fed Funds futures have retraced some of their December move and are now forecasting that the Fed will do nothing in 2019,” Brent Nyitray, formerly of iServe Residential Lending, explained in a note to his followers. “In November, they were forecasting another hike in 2019, and then swung to forecasting a cut in December. They are now more or less agreeing with James Bullard that this tightening cycle is in the books.”
Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida explained that growth prospects and other economics around the world have moderated somewhat in recent months, and financial conditions have tightened materially.
“These recent developments in the global economy and financial markets represent crosswinds to the U.S. economy,” Clarida said. “If these crosswinds are sustained, appropriate forward-looking monetary policy should respond to keep the economy as close as possible to our dual-mandate objectives of maximum employment and price stability.”
But one economist predicts that even as the Fed is being “patient,” it will still raise interest rates at least once in 2019 – before it is forced to reverse course and decrease rates in the second half of the year.
“With financial markets rebounding this week and the incoming domestic activity data relatively strong, we still expect the ‘patient’ Fed to raise interest rates this year,” Capital Economics Senior Economist Michael Pearce said. “But core PCE inflation looks set to remain stable at just below the Fed’s 2% target, so we suspect policymakers would not hesitate to end the tightening cycle if the data pointed to a sharp slowdown, which we expect to happen in the second half of this year.”
However, Pearce explained that there are still factors that could alter the course of the Fed as they make their monetary policy decisions – such as the government shutdown.
“Perhaps the biggest impact for now is that the shutdown is increasingly clouding our and the Fed’s view of the economy, with the December retail sales and housing starts data postponed, and the usual data collection by the BEA and Census Bureau still suspended,” he said. “It is increasingly unlikely that the fourth quarter GDP figures will be released on schedule later this month. It’s going to be difficult for the Fed to be data-dependent when it’s missing half of the data.”