US: FOMC Meeting Announcement

February 1, 2017 01:00 CST

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Federal Funds Rate - Target Level 0.625% 0.50% to 0.75% 0.50 to 0.75% 0.50 to 0.75%

The Fed surprised no one by keeping policy unchanged at the January FOMC, though the statement does upgrade inflation and should confirm expectations for several rate hikes sometime this year.

Inflation "will" rise is the new language vs "expected to rise" in the December statement, referring to the Fed's 2 percent inflation target. Moreover, the language now excludes references to the transitory factors that were holding down inflation (energy prices and non-energy imports).

Otherwise the statement is little changed. Moderate is still the description of economic activity. Household spending is up moderately while business investment remains soft, right in line with the prior statement. Jobs are described as solid with further gains expected and, as the statement says, supported by still accommodative monetary policy.

There is no mention of fiscal stimulus under the new administration and no mention of winding down the Fed's $4.5 trillion balance sheet. And of course there is no reference to the timing of the next rate hike.

Is a hike at the next meeting in March on the table? The incremental upward assessment for inflation, not to mention ongoing strength in the labor market, do argue for a rate hike, though events in Washington make March look like a long time off.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
After lifting rates in December for only the second time this cycle, the FOMC is expected to hold policy steady at the January 31 and February 1 meeting. The beige book (prepared for this meeting) described economic activity as no better than modest to moderate though it did cite the sharp improvement in business expectations. Labor market strength and related wage inflation were also cited. At the last meeting in December, questions over the effects of new fiscal stimulus under the Trump administration were not highlighted, a meeting that also included a press conference and forecast updates. This meeting will include only a statement.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the policy-making arm of the Federal Reserve. It determines short-term interest rates in the U.S. when it decides the overnight rate that banks pay each other for borrowing reserves when a bank has a shortfall in required reserves. This rate is the fed funds rate. The FOMC also determines whether the Fed should add or subtract liquidity in credit markets separately from that related to changes in the fed funds rate. The Fed announces its policy decision (typically whether to change the fed funds target rate) at the end of each FOMC meeting. This is the FOMC announcement. The announcement also includes brief comments on the FOMC's views on the economy and how many FOMC members voted for and how many voted against the policy decision. Since the last recession, the statement also includes information on Fed purchases of assets, so-called "quantitative easing", which affects longer-term interest rates. Also, a key part of the announcement is guidance on potential changes in policy rates or asset purchases.

The Fed determines interest rate policy at FOMC meetings. These occur roughly every six weeks and are the single most influential event for the markets. For weeks in advance, market participants speculate about the possibility of an interest rate change at these meetings. If the outcome is different from expectations, the impact on the markets can be dramatic and far-reaching.

The interest rate set by the Fed, the federal funds rate, serves as a benchmark for all other rates. A change in the fed funds rate, the lending rate banks charge each other for the use of overnight funds, translates directly through to all other interest rates from Treasury bonds to mortgage loans. It also changes the dynamics of competition for investor dollars. When bonds yield 5 percent, they will attract more money away from stocks than when they only yield 3 percent.

The level of interest rates affects the economy. Higher interest rates tend to slow economic activity; lower interest rates stimulate economic activity. Either way, interest rates influence the sales environment. In the consumer sector, fewer homes or cars will be purchased when interest rates rise. Furthermore, interest rate costs are a significant factor for many businesses, particularly for companies with high debt loads or who have to finance high inventory levels. This interest cost has a direct impact on corporate profits. The bottom line is that higher interest rates are bearish for the stock market, while lower interest rates are bullish.

The Fed also began quantitative easing during the past recession and continues during the recovery. Fed asset purchases affect longer-term interest rates and, in turn, other financial sectors and the economy.

The Fed also began quantitative easing during the past recession and continues during the recovery. Fed asset purchases affect longer-term interest rates and, in turn, other financial sectors and the economy.

Econoday lists a separate "FOMC Meeting Begins" only for the first day of two-day policy meetings. Otherwise, "FOMC Meeting Announcement" serves the same purpose for one-day FOMC meetings since the announcement takes place just after the meeting concludes.

Eight times a year.