The Federal Reserve (Fed) wrapped up its most recent monetary policy meeting yesterday by announcing a rate increase – an outcome the markets largely expected. In our view, the Fed’s updated rate projections and an important change in its policy statement were the more interesting takeaways.
Policy rate projections are provided through a “dot plot,” a compilation of the Fed Board of Governors members’ and Fed bank presidents’ projected level of rates, with each estimate represented by an unlabeled dot. As shown in the LPL Chart of the Day, the Fed’s new dots show projections of one more rate hike this year and three rate hikes in 2019.
While Fed Chair Jerome Powell reiterated several times in Wednesday’s press conference that the Fed will move forward with gradual rate hikes, the dot plot implies that policymakers expect the pace of hikes to slow. The dots also show that members expect the fed funds rate to peak at 3.38% at the end of 2020 before declining into a “longer-term” rate of 3%.
“The Fed’s updated rate projections support a gradual path of interest rate increases,” said LPL Chief Investment Strategist John Lynch. “We believe this approach is appropriate and limits the possibility of a policy mistake.”
The Fed also removed the word “accommodative” from its description of its monetary policy in Wednesday’s statement, another signal that rates may be approaching a neutral level. However, Powell noted in the press conference the change doesn’t signal a shift in the path of monetary policy. Instead, he said, it reflects that policy is moving in line with the Fed’s expectations.
This change in language reflects the Fed’s positive outlook for economic growth, but Powell’s comments qualify the meaning of this change by acknowledging that it reflects the appropriateness of current policy. The Fed continues to evaluate the upsides and downsides of the macroeconomic environment, and right now, it doesn’t see any reason to change its policy approach.
For more takeaways from the Fed meeting, check out next week’s Weekly Economic Commentary.
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