The second to last risk for a June rate hike has passed as the Beige Book, prepared by the Fed for its June 16-17 policy meeting, downgrades the strength of the economy slightly. Four of the Fed's 12 districts are reporting slowing growth from the prior Beige Book, especially Dallas which is being hit hard by the energy sector.
Nevertheless, total employment is up slightly as are wages, but only slightly. Retail sales are also up as are residential and commercial construction. Manufacturing is described as steady with the exception, again, of Dallas and also Kansas City. The service sector is described as growing.
The pace of the nation's economy is somewhere between moderate and modest with no signs of over heating. The only chance left now for a rate hike at the June meeting is Friday's employment report which would not only have to show huge gains for May but also major upward revisions for April. The economy is not getting the big second-quarter boost that the hawks expected.
This book is produced roughly two weeks before the monetary policy meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee. On each occasion, a different Fed district bank compiles anecdotal evidence on economic conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts.
This report on economic conditions is used at FOMC meetings, where the Fed sets interest rate policy. These meetings occur roughly every six weeks and are the single most influential event for the markets. Market participants speculate for weeks in advance about the possibility of an interest rate change that could be announced upon the end of these meetings. If the outcome is different from expectations, the impact on the markets can be dramatic and far-reaching.
If the Beige Book portrays an overheating economy or inflationary pressures, the Fed may be more inclined to raise interest rates in order to moderate the economic pace. Conversely, if the Beige Book portrays economic difficulties or recessionary conditions, the Fed may see the need to lower interest rates in order to stimulate activity. Since the past recession, traders worry about the impact of the Beige Book on the timing of tapering quantitative easing.
Since the Beige Book is released two weeks before each FOMC meeting, investors can see for themselves at least one of the many indicators which Fed officials will use to determine interest rate policy, and can position their portfolios accordingly.
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