Come two o’clock later today
The Fed will attempt to convey
How high rates may rise
Though doves will despise
The idea that more’s on the way
Ahead of the conclusion of the FOMC meeting today, very little has happened in the FX markets, and in fact, in most markets. At this point, given the fact that the Fed remains one of the key drivers to global monetary policy, and the still significant concern that the ongoing divergence in Fed policy with that of the rest of the world can have negative consequences, pretty much every investor is awaiting the Fed statement and Chairman Powell’s press conference. It is a foregone conclusion that they will raise the Fed Funds rate by 25bps to 2.00% – 2.25%.
So the big question is just what the dot plot will look like, especially since today is the first time we will see their 2021 forecasts. Economists and analysts have slowly accepted that the Chairman is on a mission here, and that rates are going to continue to rise by 25bps every quarter at least through June 2019. That would put Fed Funds at 2.75% – 3.00%, a level that is currently seen as ‘neutral’. But what is still uncertain is how the Fed itself expects the economy to evolve beyond the end of the previous forecast period. Any indication that their models point to faster growth would be quite surprising and have a market impact. In fact, the most recent Fed forecasts have been for the economy to peak soon and begin to slow back to a 2.0% GDP growth rate by 2020. It is changes in this trajectory that will be of the most interest. That and Chairman Powell’s comments and answers at the press conference. But at this point, all we can do is wait.
Looking around the rest of the world, we see that central banks everywhere continue to have their policy dictated by the Fed. Two examples are Indonesia and the Philippines, both of whom are expected to raise rates this week (Indonesia by 25bps, Philippines by 50bps) as both of these nations continue to run current account deficits and have seen their currencies erode in value faster than any of their Asian peers other than India. The nature of these two countries, which is quite common in the emerging market sphere, is that currency weakness passes through quickly to higher inflation, and so the dollar strength that we have seen since the beginning of Q2 has already had a significant impact. It is this issue that has prompted a number of emerging market central bankers to caution Chairman Powell of the negative consequences of the current Fed policy trajectory. However, Powell has dismissed these out of hand and the Fed continues on its course.
The other notable movement in the EMG bloc was in Argentina, where the central bank president resigned after just three months on the job. Luis Caputo was both liked and respected by markets and the FX market responded by pushing the peso lower by 2.5% on the news. Of course, in the broad scheme of things, this is not very much compared to the currency’s 50% decline this year.
Pivoting to the G10, FX movement has been modest overall, with the biggest movers AUD and NZD, both of which seem to be benefitting from the recent revival in commodity prices. There has been no new Brexit news and so the pound remains relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, after Monday’s excitement in the euro following Signor Draghi’s “relatively vigorous” comments, it seems that ECB member Peter Prâet was trotted out to explain that there was no change in the committee’s view and that rates would not be rising until much later next year. Ultimately, however, the euro is essentially unchanged on the day, with the market having drawn that conclusion shortly after the comments were made.
Yesterday’s US data showed that Consumer Confidence was approaching all time highs but House prices seemed to display some weakness. This is the perfect mix for the Fed, lessening price pressures along with optimism on economic growth. I assure you this will not deter the Fed from continuing on its path. Before the FOMC meeting ends this afternoon, New Home Sales data will print, expected to be 630K, which looks right about in line with the longer term trend, albeit showing some softness from the situation earlier this year.
I see no reason to expect that the market will move significantly before the FOMC, and of course, can only watch with the rest of the market to see what actually comes from the meeting as well as what the Chairman says. Until then, look for a quiet session.