US: FOMC Meeting Announcement

Wed Mar 21 13:00:00 CDT 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Federal Funds Rate - Target Level 1.625% 1.50% to 1.75% 1.50 to 1.75% 1.25 to 1.50%

Three rate hikes, one down and two to go, are still the FOMC's call for 2018. The FOMC did raise its federal funds target rate by 25 basis points as expected, to a midpoint of 1.625 percent within a range of 1.50 to 1.75 percent, but FOMC forecasts still have 2.1 percent as the median projection for the end of the year.

"Moderation" is the statement's refrain with descriptions of the economy generally moved down from the "solid" category of the prior FOMC statement in January. The labor market is still described as strong but not economic activity which is now "moderate", with both household spending and business fixed investments also downgraded to having "moderated".

The description for inflation is unchanged, that the 12-month rate is expected to "move up" in coming months and to stabilize around the committee's 2 percent goal over the medium term. The statement also repeats that near-term risks to the economic outlook "appear roughly balanced".

Though the rate outlook for this year is unchanged, FOMC projections do see one more rate hike in 2019, at 2.9 vs 2.7 percent in December's quarterly projections, and at 3.4 vs 3.1 percent for 2020. And the projection for this year's GDP is upgraded 2 tenths to a median 2.7 percent with projections for core inflation, though holding unchanged at 1.9 percent for this year, raised 1 tenth to 2.1 percent for both 2019 and 2020.

Today's results suggest that policy makers do not see a risk of falling behind the inflation curve and are content to wait for the economy to accelerate through the year. At 8 to 0, the vote for today's results was once again unanimous.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
An incremental 25 basis point rate hike is the universal expectation among Econoday's sample for the March FOMC, in what is expected to be the first of three if not four such rate hikes this year. And the focus will be whether to expect a fourth and this will turn on the quarterly FOMC forecasts, which will be updated at the meeting, and also the statement's assessment of inflation and whether it is downgraded, upgraded or held steady. Comments by Jerome Powell, who will be making his first appearance at the quarterly press conference, will also affect the inflation takeaway. The federal funds target is expected to rise to 1.625 percent inside a range of 1.50 and 1.75 percent.

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 extended its bond purchases to late 2014. In late 2015, the Fed began to raise its federal funds target.

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.