In a Nutshell: “Moderating economic growth and consumer spending keep the Fed on hold.”
Rate Decision: Fed funds rate range maintained at 0.25% and 0.50%
The FOMC members came, they talked, and they didn’t do much other than signal that they will continue to do not much for a while.
Going into the latest Fed gathering, there was some uncertainty over what the Committee would signal. Was Chair Yellen’s dovish tone going to hold sway or would the members try to signal that a rate hike could be on the table in June? Well, those who were worried that interest rates could go up, shouldn’t have been concerned.
Right off the bat the statement noted that “growth in economic activity appears to have slowed” and “growth in household spending has moderated”. Yes, there were some comments about income gains holding up and consumer sentiment being high, but weakening growth and softening household demand are not generally considered circumstances where you would expect to see rate hikes.
There was also no statement that the risks to the forecast were equally balanced. I guess they just didn’t want to say that what the risks were, and that failure to discuss where the economy might likely go is another indication that the members are uncertain where the economy might go. And uncertainty about how strong the economy might be going forward doesn’t breed rate hikes.
Today’s statement was probably a little more dovish than most people expected. Chair Yellen has been yelling that she was willing to wait longer than others before raising rates and if anyone doubted it, it is now clear that she has the biggest voice in the room. There was only one dissent and that too was a bit of a surprise. She is doing a good job in herding the cats on the Committee.
Okay, what does this all mean? We still have two more jobs reports and a slew of other labor market, inflation and economic data coming out before the next meeting on June 16-17. But those reports, as well as data from Europe and Asia, will have to be really strong for the Fed to consider raising rates at that meeting. The opportunity after June would be July 26, 27. I actually believe that is a possibility despite the fact there is no press conference afterward. Chair Yellen has made it clear that all meetings are live meetings, whether or not there is a press conference scheduled. I suspect she will take the first chance to prove that point. July could be it, but we need a whole stream of solid economic and inflation numbers to make that happen.
(The next FOMC meeting is June 14-15, 2016.)