HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
- In a busy week for Fed communication, Chair Powell gave his semiannual testimony to Congress where he confirmed
that crosscurrents hitting the outlook would likely require some additional accommodation.
- The Fed Chair also noted that he doesn’t see the labor market as particularly hot and, with wage growth subdued, has
more room to run.
- Powell also noted the risk that weak inflation could prove more persistent than anticipated. That risk diminished somewhat with the June CPI report, which showed core inflation firming across both goods and services.
Markets Celebrate The U.S.-China Trade Truce
It was a big week for Fed communication. Fed Chair Powell took center stage with his semiannual testimony to Congress, while minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) June meeting shed light on participants’ views of the risks to the economy.
The key takeaway from Powell’s prepared remarks was that the Fed Chair still sees crosscurrents and uncertainty as weighing on the outlook. Given that this was the key factor behind the FOMC’s increased willingness to provide additional accommodation, this was as clear a signal as any that a July rate cut is happening. Nailing the coffin closed, when the Chair was asked if the strong June jobs report had done anything to change his mind, he replied, “a straight answer…is no.”
Between now and the July 31st meeting there are data on retail sales, housing starts, home sales, durable goods orders, and a few others. Even relatively positive outcomes on all these reports are unlikely to move the Fed off that 25-basis point cut. They could, however, go a long way to moving market pricing for additional cuts (almost three by the end of this year). In the meantime, Fed speakers have one more week to communicate their take on economic data before the quiet period preceding the July meeting.
The other message in the Fed’s accompanying Monetary Policy Report as well as Powell’s Q&A sessions was the recognition that inflation is weak, and the labor market may still have some room to grow – even with an unemployment rate at 3.7%. Perhaps the most interesting response Powell gave over the two days of testimony was to a question about the possibility that lower interest rates would cause the labor market to run hot. His response was: “you know, I guess I would start by saying we don’t have any basis for calling this a hot labor market.”
Powell went on to say that wage growth of 3%, while better than the 2% it was five years ago, is “barely keeping up with productivity.” In fact, productivity growth has accelerated over the past year, and, as a result, the cost of adding workers relative to the output they produce has declined (Chart 1). Absent evidence of wage inflation, the Fed is unlikely to get too heated by a low unemployment rate, even if it continues to push further below its long-run estimates.
Nonetheless, sometimes the data zigs just when everyone expects it to zag. While the Fed Chair cited the risk that weak inflation would prove more persistent than anticipated, the CPI out this week showed prices rising firmly in June. Core CPI (excluding food and energy) rose 0.3% on the month – the strongest gain since January 2018. Price growth firmed for both core goods and services (Chart 2). Still, with the year-on-year headline rate at just 1.7% and core at 2.2%, the firetrucks can stay parked for now.
James Marple, Senior Economist | 416-982-2557
This report is provided by TD Economics. It is for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of writing, and may not be appropriate for other purposes. The views and opinions expressed may change at any time based on market or other conditions and may not come to pass. This material is not intended to be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. The report does not provide material information about the business and affairs of TD Bank Group and the members of TD Economics are not spokespersons for TD Bank Group with respect to its business and affairs. The information contained in this report has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate or complete. This report contains economic analysis and views, including about future economic and financial markets performance. These are based on certain assumptions and other factors, and are subject to inherent risks and uncertainties. The actual outcome may be materially different. The Toronto-Dominion Bank and its affiliates and related entities that comprise the TD Bank Group are not liable for any errors or omissions in the information, analysis or views contained in this report, or for any loss or damage suffered.