The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to hold interest rates steady at its meeting this week as it pauses to parse more economic data but may hint it is on track for an increase in June. The central bank is scheduled to release its policy decision at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Wednesday at the conclusion of its two-day meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is not due to hold a press conference.
Most policymakers have already made plain that in contrast to previous years, the Fed feels more confident in its forecast of two more rate increases this year.”The bar to disrupting the Fed’s plans is higher now than it was in previous years,” said Michael Gapen, chief economist at Barclays in New York in a note to clients.The Fed is in its first tightening cycle in more than a decade. A quarter percentage point increase last December was followed two meetings later by another hike in March.
Economists polled by Reuters see little chance of a move at this week’s meeting. Investors next see an interest rate rise in June, according to Fed futures data compiled by the CME Group.The rate-setting committee also is still waiting to see to what extent Trump administration policies on tax, spending and regulation will be able to get through Congress. A stimulus package could speed up the pace of hikes.
LIKELY TO DOWNPLAY WEAKNESS
Since the last meeting economic data has been mixed. The economy grew at a sluggish 0.7 percent annual pace in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled.However, a surge in business investment and the fastest wage growth in a decade suggest activity will regain momentum as the year progresses.Jobs growth also slowed sharply in March but the unemployment rate dropped to a near 10-year low of 4.5 percent.
Economists have largely attributed the weak first-quarter reading to perennial issues with the calculation of growth during the January-March period and the pullback in hiring in March to weather effects.”There won’t be a lot of changes to the policy statement,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. “I think they will downplay the soft first-quarter print and focus a little bit more on the labor market.”
The Fed will have two more employment growth reports to hand before its next meeting.Policymakers are also gearing up to announce sometime this year when and how the Fed will begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, according to minutes from the March meeting.An announcement this week on a concrete timeline is not expected but there could be tweaks to language in the statement to show the matter is an increasing priority for the Fed.