KEY DATA: PPI: +0.3%; Excluding Food and Energy: +0.3%/ NFIB: -0.6 point
IN A NUTSHELL: “The rise in price pressures continues and it is very likely the Fed will make a move tomorrow.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The Fed’s rate setting committee, the FOMC, is in day one of its two-day meeting and while you can never be certain what the members will do, it looks like a rate hike is coming when the statement is released tomorrow afternoon. Today’s data only reinforce that view. First, wholesale prices rose moderately in February, led by another jump in energy costs. Over the year, producer prices are have now risen by over 2% and are up by nearly that pace even excluding the volatile food and energy components, as the gains were spread across most areas. Food and services expenses posted solid increases, adding to the cost pressures. Looking down the road, sharp rises in intermediate goods costs are pointing to further increases in consumer finished goods prices and that doesn’t bode well for inflation.
Small business owners have been ecstatic about the election and their confidence has soared. But that could change. The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business index fell slightly in February. Though the index remains at a high level, the NFIB president issued this warning: “The sustainability of this surge and whether it will lead to actual economic growth depends on Washington’s ability to deliver on the agenda that small business voted for in November. If the health care and tax policy discussions continue without action, optimism will fade.” Given the chaos over the AHCA, which should be called Republicancare, and the lack of any proposal on tax reform, don’t be surprised if small business owners become a little more cautious about the future.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: With a rate hike potentially only 24 hours away, it is time to start recognizing that rates are really going up this year and probably faster and greater than thought. Fed Chair Yellen will have a press conference tomorrow after the meeting and might provide a small amount of guidance as to future actions. In addition, there will even be another round of the infamous and largely useless dot plots that provide “insights” into the members’ thinking. I suspect there will be a shift to as many as four increases. Coming into the year, I had forecasted three increases but a total of one percentage point. It looks like that 100 basis point forecast may occur, but through a quarter point increase every other meeting. Regardless, the markets didn’t have a full point hike factored in coming into the year and many still have the “when I see it, I will believe it” attitude when it comes to Fed actions. That is actually a rational approach given the hesitancy to raise rates we have seen from this Fed Chair. But my view is that once she gets going, and assuming the Republicans actually pass a tax and spending plan, Chair Yellen will push ahead steadily.