December 12-13 2017 FOMC Meeting

In a Nutshell: “The Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/4 to 1‑1/2 percent.”

 Decision: Fed funds rate maintained increased to 1.25% to 1.50%.

Not surprisingly, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen went out with a bank, or a rather a rate hike. The FOMC announced that it was raising the target range for the federal funds to 1.25% to 1.50%. This constitutes the third rate hike this year, pretty much what most of us expected going into the year.

What was interesting in today’s releases was the sharp upward revision to the Fed’s expectations on economic growth next year. Instead of increasing at a 2.1% pace, which was the median forecast in September, the members now put it at 2.5%. That upward revision is in line with the projections of most economists when you factor in a tax bill. While the Committee didn’t specifically mention fiscal policy in its statement, Chair Yellen did say she thought a tax cut could be modestly positive next year. She didn’t think it would change the growth path afterward, which is also consistent with both the members’ forecasts and that of most private sector economists. There could be some greater growth, but echoing her view, it would be limited.

What was interesting is that the Fed believes that its rate policy will not only allow inflation to rise to its target of 2% in the medium term, nothing new there, but continue “supporting strong labor market conditions”. As one reporter pointed out, that could mean the Fed already thinks the labor market is strong enough and could become concerned if the unemployment rate goes lower. Strangely, despite the upping of growth and the lowering of their expected 2018 unemployment rate, the members have not altered their inflation forecast. One of the questions asked at her last press conference was whether Chair Yellen thought the unchanged inflation rate was inconsistent with lower unemployment rates and faster growth. Her answer was essentially that the Fed was unclear why the inflation rate had not accelerated lately, which to me means that a sudden spurt could create real concern. Finally, the so-called dot-plot called for about three rate hikes next year. That would be consistent with the forecast of decent (2.5%) growth but no major acceleration in inflation. Any deviation from either would likely mean more hikes.

Lastly, I think Janet Yellen did a wonderful job as Fed Chair. There were more than a few times I disagreed with her positions, but her leadership was outstanding and she leaves the Fed with an economy that is growing solidly and a financial system that is much more stable than when she started. It is hard to quarrel with her results, especially given that fiscal policy was in a state of gridlock during her term and economic policy was squarely on the back of the Fed. Well Done!

(The next FOMC meeting is January 30-31, 2018.)