FOMC teases start of taper "soon"

·8 min read

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve on Wednesday cleared the way to reduce its monthly bond purchases "soon" and signaled interest rate increases may follow more quickly than expected, with nine of 18 U.S. central bank policymakers projecting borrowing costs will need to rise in 2022. 

  The actions, which were included in the Fed's latest policy statement and separate economic projections, represent a hawkish tilt by a central bank that sees inflation running this year at 4.2%, more than double its target rate, and is positioning itself to act against it. 

  The current target interest rate was held steady in a range of 0% to 0.25%. 

  In a press conference after the statement Fed Chair Jerome Powell elaborated that if the economy continues to improve the FOMC could easily move ahead with tapering at the next meeting in November. The bar for lifting rates from zero is much higher than for tapering, he said. 

  STOCKS: The S&P 500 briefly extended a rally and was last unchanged from before the statement up 0.95% 

  BONDS: The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield seesawed and was last up at 1.3226% and the 2-year yield firmed to 0.2342% 

  FOREX: The dollar index turned 0.2% firmer 



  "There are some notable takeaways. The divergence of views within the committee is interesting. We're seeing a 50-50 split in terms of rate hikes in 2022. There's just a big divergence of opinions on rate hikes and even further into 2023, a big range of potential Fed Fund target rates. 

  "The Fed did talk about potentially moderating its asset purchases soon, that’s setting up the committee to announce tapering in November, with a decision to actually taper coming in December. The Fed has made progress in that taper timeline and we think that will likely take place this year." 

  "The other takeaways were the adjustments to the summary of economic projections. Inflation expectations have move higher for a touch longer than they originally thought, and then those growth expectations have come down a touch as well." 


  "Very mixed signals from the Fed, resulting in the dollar's choppy performance. Once the dust settles it seems that there are enough hawkish signals to keep the dollar biased higher, as the market pencils in a sooner-than-expected rate hike. Inflation also continues to trend higher. And although the Fed marked down its forecasts for growth and unemployment, it still has robust expectations for the economy." 


  "Markets initially read the statement as hawkish, but that reaction is fading out as traders read more deeply into the Statement of Economic Projections. Fed officials acknowledged making 'substantial further progress' toward the central bank's inflation goal, and demonstrated confidence in the labor market meeting that test by the end of the year. 

  "The FOMC warned markets of an imminent tapering decision, saying that a 'moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted' if economic conditions continue to evolve as expected. 

  "A record number of participants are worried about upside risks on the inflation front, suggesting that the central bank could move aggressively if price growth remains elevated into the early part of next year." 

  "Officials are now deadlocked on raising rates in 2022, but the median forecast is for a 1% Fed funds rate in 2023, and only 1.8% by the end of 2024. This is not rapid tightening by any means - it's slightly slower than the 25-basis-point-per-quarter pace seen in previous cycles. 

  "This could also mean that estimates of the 'terminal rate' at the end of the cycle have been lowered. This is dovish, and will be welcomed in financial markets. The dollar could tumble from here, particularly if Powell follows prior patterns and tramples on the dot plot during the presser." 


  "It's probably a little bit more hawkish than many would have anticipated basically acknowledging that should the economy continue to grow as we have seen it would warrant a tapering to occur. You could say it's a tentative tapering announcement even though they did lower their 2021 GDP forecast." 

  "The reason the Fed is tapering is because the economy and corporate earnings are strong enough to withstand it. So investors are basically saying let's buy equities because the economy is strong and the Fed won't be raising rates until a year plus from now." 

  "The Fed is not going to get behind the curve and won't have to end up surprising us by raising rates much more quickly than currently anticipated." 


  "Basically what we're seeing here is a (U.S. Treasury yield) curve flattening shift in response to the summary of economic projections pulling forward Fed rate hikes. The Fed is now projecting a rate hike in 2022 as their median forecast, which is up from steady in the July summary of economic projections. As a result, what we're seeing is a little bit of pressure on the front end (of the curve), while the long end views the slightly more hawkish Fed as a positive sign for keeping inflation in check along with some potential risk of the Fed moving too quickly and acting to slow the economy in the coming years." 

  "We have seen a bit of an acceleration in the curve flattening based on the view that we've seen peak inflation and some of the risks related to the slowing economy in the third quarter." 


  “It is an interesting point in time here, the tapering of quantitative easing seems very likely now in November but this was something of a given and remains couched in a lot of qualifying criteria in the event that various risks emerge, whether it is the debt ceiling debate, COVID outlook, the China property market intervening. The increase in the Fed’s projections in future interest rates though seems to be more what has caught the market by surprise at the margin, it is still consistent with our view that the Fed is likely to continue allowing inflation to run hot and remain anchored in the same measured pace as prior cycles. It really only increases the inflation risk that we have been taking seriously as we see some of the supply chain and labor shortages clearly not resolving with the end of unemployment benefits. Longer-term there is a lot of powerful disinflationary forces but for the moment they are clearly being offset and the risk is that becomes entrenched in consumer expectations.” 

  “For the moment, the markets seem to be taking this in stride with a relatively positive reaction from the stock market and from longer-term bonds, as far as the inflation outlook goes, I’m not sure this is a positive development.” 

  “It is also the measured pace, some increase in the dots was expected by the market and priced in to some extent but there wasn’t any acceleration, in fact there is a deceleration, which indicates perhaps some members of the committee have revised lower their terminal rate, it is hard to know, but the current dots as they are showing fewer increases in the out years and this is the first look we have gotten in the 2024 projections. So that is a notable development that perhaps is what is driving the positive response in longer-term interest rates and the shifts in currency markets.” 


  “Across the board it’s exactly what we were expecting, the Fed took another step towards a formal taper announcement, and that’s probably going to come at the next meeting or two. 

  "The key behind the potential rate hike was the upgrade to their inflation outlook. There are signs inflationary pressures are going to be transitory, but they are more persistent than expected. That’s the key driver as to why the balance has shifted to a potential rate hike in 2022 as opposed to 2023. 

  "We’re watching yield curves flatten. The Treasury market’s interpreting it as a hawkish surprise. 

  "It was very inline with expectations. Powell will use the press conference to reiterate to the idea that tapering is coming in the several months. It’s what I expected, not too hawkish and not too dovish." 


  “Unless we know who is who, which we don't, I'm not sure the dot-plot accurately reflects the Fed’s thinking. I don't think the Fed’s tightening is going to be anywhere near as hawkish as they anticipate. It’s going to be hard for them to execute on this plan as the economy slows next year.” 

  (Compiled by the U.S. Finance & Markets Breaking News team) 

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