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US Fed seen raising rates despite $4-trillion wipeout after market plunge

Stocks recovered on Tuesday a fraction of what they lost over the prior two trading sessions

Reuters 

Jerome Powell
New US Fed Chairman Jerome Powell

Monday’s rout on Wall Street frayed investors’ nerves, but it is not enough to knock the Federal Reserve off course from its intended path to further raise interest rates in 2018 as the economy continues to hum along, analysts say.

The worldwide in equities wiped out $4 trillion in value from record peaks eight days ago, raising concerns such a swift loss of wealth would hurt corporate investments and consumer spending just when many economies in addition to the United States are on a synchronised growth path.

Stocks recovered on Tuesday a fraction of what they lost over the prior two trading sessions, but the price declines and rise in bond yields does relieve a bit of the pressure on the Fed to raise rates.

While investors are smarting from the sell-off, financial conditions, or levels of wealth and borrowing costs, remain at their strongest in almost 25 years. They, together with the major tax cuts enacted in December, would support the economy to grow 2.5 to 3.0 per cent, analysts said on Tuesday.

Unless the market plunge intensifies and damages the economy, Fed policy-makers will unlikely budge from their plan to lift key short-term interest rates three times this year, analysts said.

“I don’t think what we have seen would change their view on their path of rate hikes,” said Daragh Maher, US head of FX strategy at HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York.

FED RATE BETS

Still, traders dialed back bets the US central bank would ratchet up the pace on rate increases on Monday to between two to three hikes from three to four hikes, according to interest rates futures.

Last Friday, traders added to their positions for a faster pace of rate hikes when a robust payrolls report showed wage pressure grew to 2.9 per cent in January, the fastest annual rate since June 2009.

Anxiety that inflation is accelerating due to bigger paychecks propelled benchmark 10-year yields to a four-year high at 2.88 per cent.

Concerns that rising wage pressure would eat into corporate profits and the Fed would raise rates more quickly to raise borrowing costs led to a stampede out of stocks.

Wall Street’s three major indexes rebounded following Monday’s drop.

But the S&P 500’s gains so far in 2018 evaporated, while the Dow was in negative territory for the year. The Nasdaq clung to a 2.8 per cent rise but was well below an 8.7 per cent increase on Jan. 26.

FINANCIAL CONDITIONS STILL EASY

In addition to signs of rising inflation, loose financial conditions will be a key factor for the Fed policy-makers to raise short-term rates further.

Rates futures suggested traders expected the Fed would raise rates by a quarter point at its March 20-21 meeting. It raised rates back in December to a target range of 1.25-1.50 per cent.

“Financial market conditions are part of that calculus,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco in New York. “Nothing I have seen so far would cause the Fed to change.”

The Chicago Federal Reserve’s index on financial conditions, which account for the state of money, debt and stock as well as borrowing costs, slipped to -0.94 in the week ended Jan. 26, which was the lowest level since August 1993 and signaling extremely easy market conditions.

For now, the Fed will likely monitor whether inflation is indeed accelerating toward its 2-per cent goal, or just a specter that induces a short-lived

“The Fed will keep their eye on the prize - which is inflation,” Hooper said.

First Published: Wed, February 07 2018. 07:17 IST
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