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Politics & MoneyMortgage

Will Fed remain dovish, punt on interest-rate hike again?

Market analysts still look to second half of year for federal funds rate increase

During this week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the group that sets the benchmark interest rate for bank lending, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about whether to raise the federal funds rate again, but discussion is about as far as it’s going to get, some analysts believe.

In December, the FOMC announced an increase of the federal funds rate, which was the first rate hike since June 2006. In the wake of that announcement, some analysts believed that there would be as many as three more rate hikes in 2016.

But recent economic indicators and words of caution from Fed Chair Janet Yellen lead some analysts to believe that this week’s FOMC meeting is little more than an exercise in discussing whether June is the right time to consider a rate hike, rather than doing anything of substance now.

Analysts from Interactive Data, which monitors the fixed income markets, suggest that while housing is showing some signs of strength, other economic factors will lead the FOMC to continue its dovish messaging and actions.

“While housing related data remains steady, evidenced by this morning's in-line S&P Case-Shiller HPI report, the picture was bleak elsewhere, as Consumer Confidence fell by a much larger than anticipated margin in April, driven lower by the expectations component,” Interactive Data’s analysts noted. “Given their timeliness, these data points are likely to strengthen the case for dovish undertones to be forthcoming from (this week’s) FOMC statement.”

According to Interactive Data’s note, some market observers place the probability of a rate hike this week at “zero,” but note that those observers state that chances of a rate hike in June are on the rise.

If the FOMC does stand pat, as it did during its last meeting, one observer expects the FOMC’s messaging to change slight to reflect the possibility of a June rate hike.

Over on Bloomberg, Tim Duy, the professor of practice and senior director of the Oregon Economic Forum at the University of Oregon, writes that the market has already “ruled out” a June hike, but wonders if the FOMC will lay the groundwork for a June increase.

Duy writes:

The April meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will be about the June meeting. Policymakers' fundamental challenge is that the FOMC doesn't want to rule out a June hike, but the markets already have. They need to decide if they want to make a play for a June hike and how to communicate such a message. They'll probably want to keep the option for a June hike open and hence will alter this week’s statement accordingly.

Financial market participants place the odds at just 19.6 percent, according to Bloomberg data. Hence, if the Fed wants to "jolt" market participants from their complacency, they will need to modify the statement to signal that June is in play.

So what the FOMC do? We’ll find out at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, but odds are it will be a whole lot of nothing.

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