The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to maintain interest rates at a 22-year high for the third consecutive meeting as it grapples with persistently high inflation. The financial markets are already factoring in this anticipated pause, prompting discussions among traders and analysts regarding the timing and pace of potential interest rate cuts by the US central bank.
Uncertainty Surrounding Policy Outlook
While a rate hike is considered unlikely, there is uncertainty about how the Fed will articulate its policy outlook for the upcoming year. The central bank, led by Chair Jerome Powell, has maintained a cautious stance, emphasizing that it would be premature to rule out the possibility of another rate hike if deemed necessary. This strategic ambiguity is seen as a “battle for optionality” as policymakers navigate economic uncertainties.
Divergence with Other Central Banks: Inflation
The Fed’s approach contrasts with that of other central banks, such as the European Central Bank, which is showing increasing support for ending rate hikes amid declining inflation. The Fed’s commitment to keeping the door open for another rate hike is a unique feature in the current global monetary policy landscape.
Positive Economic Indicators
Recent US economic data, including low unemployment, robust job creation, positive economic growth, and declining inflation, have provided a favorable backdrop. The latest consumer price index (CPI) indicated an annual inflation rate of 3.2%, down from the pandemic-era peak of 9.1%. This positive data has raised hopes of achieving a “soft landing,” where the Fed meets its dual mandate without triggering a recession.
Implications for President Biden
The outcome of the Fed’s decisions holds significance for President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection in 2024. Positive economic indicators, including steady job expansion, contribute to what Biden calls a ‘sweet spot’ for stable growth and lower inflation, which aligns with the Fed’s cautious approach.
Future Rate Cut Predictions
While a December pause is widely agreed upon, there is less certainty about the trajectory beyond. Traders and analysts are debating the potential for interest rate cuts in the future. Predictions range from Deutsche Bank’s forecast of 1.75 percentage points in cuts for 2024 to Barclays’ more conservative projection of the Fed remaining on hold until December 2024.
Quarterly Economic Projections and Press Conference
In addition to the interest rate decision, the Fed will release a quarterly update to its summary of economic projections (SEP). This update, coupled with Powell’s post-meeting press conference, is expected to offer insights into policymakers’ views on economic growth, inflation, unemployment, and the potential for interest rate cuts.
Analysts anticipate the Fed maintaining a cautious stance, potentially pushing back against the idea of imminent rate cuts. The central bank may prioritize leaving rates relatively high to manage potential risks, emphasizing its commitment to data-dependent decision-making.