Wells Fargo reversed its Federal Reserve forecast on Monday as coronavirus slowed economic growth across the globe.
The largest U.S. bank mortgage lender now is predicting a 1% cut in the Fed’s benchmark rate by the end of June. Before the coronavirus outbreak spread beyond China, Wells Fargo had been forecasting the Fed would hold the rate in its current 1.5% to 1.75% range through 2020.
“If financial markets continue to spiral lower, the FOMC may very well decide to cut rates before the committee’s next scheduled meeting on March 18,” Wells Fargo economists wrote in a note to clients. “Or the committee could wait until March 18 to cut rates 50 basis points with a follow-up 50 basis-point rate cut on April 29.”
There are now more than 88,000 global cases of the disease named COVID-19, with infections on every continent except Antarctica, and more than 3,000 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.S. has about 100 cases of COVID-19 in the United States in 11 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of those are Americans exposed to the virus overseas and repatriated to the U.S. At least six Americans have died from the virus.
On Friday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell issued a rare inter-meeting statement hinting at rate cuts as he tried to calm jitters about the global spread of COVID-19.
“The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong,” Powell said. “However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”
Many economists interpreted that as a pledge to cut rates if needed. While that would be helpful, it won’t address some of the core issues, such as supply chain interruptions, the Wells Fargo note said.
“In some sense, Fed rate cuts are ill-suited to offset the supply shock that the COVID-19 outbreak has imparted to the global economy,” the Wells Fargo economists wrote. Still, “there would be some beneficial effects stemming from lower interest rates,” they said.