HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
- Next week the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will meet for the fourth time this year to discuss whether the current level of monetary stimulus is appropriate for the U.S. economy.
- Well above-trend economic growth and inflation at target should be enough to convince the FOMC to move its main policy rate up by 25 basis points.
- Elevated geopolitical uncertainty is likely to keep the FOMC on its current course of gradual rate hikes.
FOMC Locked in for Second Rate Hike of 2018
Next week the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will meet for the fourth time this year to discuss whether the current level of stimulus is appropriate for the U.S. economy. During their discussions they will evaluate the health of the economy, wage and price pressures, and emerging risks before deciding on revisions to their outlook for economic activity, inflation, and the future path of the fed funds rate.
The U.S. economy is firing on all cylinders at the moment. Growth in the second quarter is currently tracking a blistering 4.0% annualized pace, helped along by a strong rebound in household spending, firm business investment, and surprising strength in net exports. What’s more, growth is expected to continue at a 3.0% annualized pace on average for the remainder of the year, with fiscal stimulus contributing about half a point.
Strong economic activity is working to absorb any remaining spare capacity. The unemployment rate is at an eighteen year low, and as of April there were more job openings than there were job seekers (Chart 1). Wage growth is healthy by historical standards, but should move even higher as skilled labor becomes scarce. But, wages typically keep up with productivity growth, and on that front the U.S. economy continues to perform below historical trends (Chart 2).
Consumer price inflation is above 2.0%, a sign that the U.S. economy is bumping up against capacity constraints. Add higher fuel prices, higher import prices due to increased tariffs, and strong wage growth, and it’s just a matter of time before profit margins get pinched enough for firms to pass on rising costs to consumers. All told, headline consumer price inflation is likely to peak at 2.7% this year, with the Fed’s preferred measure, the core personal consumer expenditure deflator, holding near its target of 2.0% through the end of this year.
Altogether, this solid outlook should be more than enough to convince the FOMC that the U.S. economy does not require the amount of monetary stimulus currently on offer. As a result, the fed funds rate is likely to move up by 25 bps next week, with another hike or even two embedded in the updated dot plot summary for this year.
That said, although further rate hikes are certain, their exact timing is still open for debate. Geopolitical risks remain elevated, and a policy misstep or two may be just enough to send financial markets, business confidence, and global trade into a tailspin. Trade skirmishes could easily escalate into trade wars, particularly if talks fail to make progress between the U.S. and its major trading partners. Although much better prepared than in past tightening cycles, emerging markets remain at the mercy of nervous investors who are more concerned with capital retention than returns in such an uncertain environment. Argentina and Turkey were the first victims of speculative attacks, but they surely will not be the last during this tightening cycle. All told, in light of these and other risks, the FOMC is likely to stay on its current path of gradual rate hikes.
Fotios Raptis, Senior Economist | 416-982-2556
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