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Wednesday, 06 January 2016 14:21

The Fed Makes Its Move

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Wall Street rallies as interest rates rise for the first time since 2006. 

U.S. monetary policy officially changed course Wednesday. Federal Reserve officials voted to raise the federal funds rate by a quarter of a percentage point, ending an unprecedented 7-year period in which it was held near zero. Nearly ten years had passed since the central bank had adjusted interest rates upward.1

The Federal Open Market Committee voted 10-0 in favor of the rate hike. It also raised the discount rate by a quarter-point to 1.0%.1  

Addressing the media after the FOMC announcement, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen shared the central bank’s viewpoint:With the economy performing well, and expected to continue to do so, the committee judged that a modest increase in the federal funds rate target is now appropriate, recognizing that even after this increase, monetary policy remains accommodative.”2 

Equities started the day with minor gains, then advanced further. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq Composite respectively advanced 1.28%, 1.45%, and 1.52% Wednesday. The yield on the 2-year Treasury hit a 5-year high of 1.021%. Gold rose $15.20 to close at $1,076.80 on the COMEX.3,4

As a December rate increase was widely expected, the real curiosity concerned the following press conference. Would Janet Yellen offer any hints about monetary policy in 2016? 

She offered one: she said she doubted that any interest rate hikes in 2016 would be “equally spaced.” Aside from that remark, no new insights emerged; Yellen reemphasized that the Fed does not plan to raise rates aggressively.2

Investors gained more insight from the Fed’s latest dot-plot chart, which expresses the Federal Open Market Committee’s opinion on where the benchmark interest rate will be at near-term intervals. The new dot-plot forecasts four rate hikes during 2016, with the federal funds rate climbing toward 1.5% by the end of next year (the median projection is 1.4%).5

The dot-plot revealed benchmark interest rate targets of 2.4% for the end of 2017 and 3.3% for the end of 2018, slightly lower than the previously stated targets of 2.6% and 3.4%.5

That corresponds with the consensus of analysts surveyed by CNBC. Their expectation was for three quarter-point rate hikes across 2016, taking the federal funds rate toward 1%.6 

Some analysts wonder if the next rate hike might occur at the FOMC’s March meeting. Nothing could be gleaned about that from Yellen’s press conference or the new FOMC announcement.6

With more tightening seemingly ahead, what is in store for the bull market? Bears may want to wait before making any gloomy pronouncements. While rising interest rates are commonly assumed to impede a bull market, this is not always the case. In fact, the S&P 500 advanced 15% during the last round of tightening (2004-06).7

Could higher interest rates decrease inflation pressure? That is a distinct possibility, and that would hurt wage growth and business growth. The Fed would like to see inflation in the vicinity of 2%, yet the Consumer Price Index is up only 0.5% in the past 12 months, held in check by a 14.7% annualized retreat in energy prices and a 24.1% annualized fall in gas prices. On the other hand, the Core CPI (minus food and energy prices) is up 2.0% in the past year.6

The Fed may have made just the right move at the right time. If it had waited until 2016 to tighten, a collective “uh-oh” might have been heard from pundits and analysts, with comments along the lines of “Does the Fed know something about the economy that we do not?” 

As JPMorgan Private Bank chief U.S. investment strategist Kate Moore told CNNMoney this week, “Keeping interest rates at zero is enforcing the idea that the U.S. economy is fragile.” Years of easing certainly helped the bull market, though: Wednesday morning, the S&P 500 was 202% above its March 9, 2009 bear market low.2,7    

Ultimately, the central bank felt the time had come for tightening. At Wednesday’s press conference, Yellen commented that data had led the Fed to raise rates – it had not made its move in response to any shifts in public opinion. “Consumers are in much healthier financial condition” than they once were, she remarked. The rate hike certainly expresses confidence in the economy, which could strengthen further in 2016.2         

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

   

Citations.

1 - marketwatch.com/story/federal-reserve-lifts-interest-rates-for-first-time-since-2006-2015-12-16 [12/16/15]

2 - blogs.marketwatch.com/capitolreport/2015/12/16/live-blog-and-video-of-the-fed-interest-rate-decision-and-janet-yellen-press-conference/ [12/16/15]

3 - cnbc.com/2015/12/16/us-markets-fed.html [12/16/15]

4 - reuters.com/article/usa-bonds-idUSL1N1452HC20151216 [12/16/15]

5 - marketwatch.com/story/federal-reserve-dot-plot-still-signals-4-interest-rate-hikes-in-2016-2015-12-16 [12/16/15]

6 - latimes.com/business/la-fi-federal-reserve-rate-hike-20151216-story.html [12/16/15]

7 - money.cnn.com/2015/12/15/investing/stocks-markets-fed-rate-hike/ [12/15/15]

Thursday, 10 December 2015 21:46

Why It Might Be Time for the Fed to Raise Rates

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In doing so, the central bank would cast a vote of confidence in the economy.

Will the Federal Reserve make a move in December? As our central bank has avoided tightening U.S. monetary policy for nine years, an end-of-year interest rate hike might seem more possible than probable. Call it a strong possibility, if nothing else – after the November 18 release of the October Fed policy meeting minutes, trading in Fed funds futures indicated that investors saw a 68% chance of a December rate hike. In late October, they saw only a 38% chance of that happening.1 

The October Fed meeting minutes sent a strong signal. They noted that “most” Federal Open Market Committee members thought that conditions for a rate increase “could well be met by the time of the next meeting,” with another passage stating that “it may well become appropriate to initiate the normalization process” at that time.2 

Investors want some certainty when it comes to monetary policy. The S&P 500 advanced 1.6% on November 18, carried by gains in financial shares (banks would benefit greatly from higher interest rates). It was the biggest one-day rally U.S. equities had seen in a month. After the FOMC elected to refrain from raising rates in both September and October, the question became “when?” To many market observers, the October FOMC meeting minutes seem to provide an answer.1

The next jobs report could be a major influence. In October, the economy added 271,000 new jobs with 2.5% annualized wage growth and unemployment falling to 5.0%. If the next Labor Department employment report shows hiring well above the 200,000 level in November, the Fed could interpret that as a clear green light.2

The Fed would be going against the grain by raising rates in December. The People’s Bank of China has lowered its benchmark interest rate six times since October 2014. The European Central Bank, which has launched a major monetary stimulus, has reduced its key interest rate to 0.05%. Some analysts believe it could hit zero. The ECB’s deposit rate is currently at -0.2%.3,4

Even so, investors might appreciate a decisive Fed move. The markets need to have confidence in the Fed, and as CNBC Fast Money panelist Guy Adami recently noted, a hawkish move might be followed by a long dovish interval – the FOMC could raise the federal funds rate in December, then leave it alone until late 2016. That could amount to a best-case scenario for Wall Street.5

Besides placating the market, are there other notable reasons to raise rates? Adami’s Fast Money colleague, Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff, begged to differ. On the same broadcast, he shared his opinion that the Fed is standing pat because it feels the economy is not yet strong enough to handle a rate hike. “This is a bubble ... not a recovery,” he commented, adding that Wall Street remains in love with easing and “easy money.”5    

These points of view aside, many analysts, journalists and market participants see a December rate move (and the tightening that would presumably follow it) as a net positive. As Cuttone & Co. senior vice president Keith Bliss told the Wall Street Journal, “I think it’s a relief for the market that in the opinion of the Fed policy makers the economy is not falling apart.”1

One thing is certain – the federal funds rate will eventually rise from its current historic low, perhaps very soon, as what should be the first step a tightening cycle. In light of this eventuality, you might want to review your investments and your financial strategy.

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

     

Citations.

1 - tinyurl.com/nexyes9 [11/18/15]

2 - foxbusiness.com/economy-policy/2015/11/18/federal-reserve-minutes/ [11/18/15]

3 - reuters.com/article/2015/10/23/us-china-economy-policy-idUSKCN0SH18W20151023 [10/23/15]

4 - usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/11/18/as-us-prepares-to-hike-rates-europe-could-reap-benefits [11/18/15]

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