Fed unlikely to lift rates this week
> Uncertainty remains over whether US economy ready for an interest rate hike
WASHINGTON: The Federal Reserve opened its sixth monetary policy meeting this year yesterday again facing the quandary that the US economy is not clearly ready for an interest rate hike.
While some economists say the Fed, long anxious to pull away from its crisisera ultra low rate policy, could surprise with an increase in the federal funds rate today, most say it will stand pat.
With that benchmark, crucial to borrowing and deposit rates around the world, stuck at 0.25-0.50%, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which sets monetary policy, has repeatedly signalled intentions to increase it this year.
But some weak economic data in recent weeks raises a question mark over the strength of the US economy. And persistent weakness in other major economies also continues to challenge the rationale for a rate increase.
Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, said he thinks December is the month for an increase.
“We expect Fed officials to couple an on-hold announcement this week with more pronounced ‘tightening is imminent’ guidance”, he said in a client note.
Just three weeks ago, comments made at the Fed’s annual central banking symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, signalled that the FOMC could finally pull the rate trigger at the end of its Sept 20-21 meeting.
Most notably, Fed Chair and FOMC head Janet Yellen said clearly that she thought the time had come.
“In light of the continued solid performance of the labour market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” she said.
Others, including Fed Deputy Chair Stanley Fischer, reinforced that impression.
But the data since then has not supported them. Job creation has been relatively good, and the housing market solid. But, extending the secondquarter’s slump, industrial output and consumer spending have stayed weak.
In addition, inflation – which the Fed has sought with its hefty stimulus policy to increase – remains feeble, not appearing to react to a world awash in easy money.
The last FOMC official to speak ahead of the meeting, Fed Governor Lael Brainard, held firm with her view that the global economy matters to the Fed, and that it need not rush into a rate hike.
“To the extent that the effect on inflation of further gradual tightening in labour market conditions is likely to be moderate and gradual, the case to tighten policy pre-emptively is less compelling,” she said on Sept 12. – AFP