United States: Fed dials hikes back to 25 basis points at its February meeting
At the meeting on 31 January–1 February, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) increased the target range for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 4.50–4.75%. As a result, the FOMC slowed its tightening pace compared to the previous meetings.
The decision to continue hiking was aimed at containing inflation that is still more than triple the Fed’s 2.0% target. The Fed was also looking to cool the hot labor market; the unemployment rate is now below pre-pandemic levels, and employment growth is strong. However, the smaller rate hike was likely driven by the easing of inflationary pressures in recent months, and the view that the cumulative 425 basis points of monetary tightening already undertaken has not yet put inflation on a downward path.
In its communiqué, the Fed acknowledged once more that “ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate” to converge towards the 2% inflation goal. In the Fed’s December forecasts, officials projected the end-2023 federal funds target rate range at 5.00–5.25%, slightly above our panelists’ forecasts. However, there are important differences among panelists as projections for the end-2023 policy rate upper bound range from 3.25–5.50%. If strong economic data persists—inflation, retail sales and employment growth all beat market expectations in January—this would increase the risk of a more-prolonged-than-anticipated tightening cycle.
Giving their outlook, Nomura analysts said:
“With a shallow recession taking hold and inflation gradually easing, we expect the Fed to hike once more in March to 4.75-5.00% before cuts begin in March 2024.”
In contrast, Goldman Sachs analysts are more hawkish:
“In light of the stronger growth and firmer inflation news, we are adding another 25bp rate hike to our Fed forecast. We now expect three more 25bp hikes in March, May, and June, for a peak funds rate of 5.25-5.5%.”
The next monetary policy meeting is scheduled on 21-22 March.