Economists expect that US inflation will remain subdued – below the Federal Reserve’s 2.0% target — in Thursday’s update on consumer prices for August. If the forecast is right, the news will continue to stoke expectations that the central bank will delay the next rate hike into next year.
Econoday.com’s consensus forecast calls for the annual pace of headline and core inflation to stay under 2.0% for the fourth month in a row in August: 1.9% and 1.6%, respectively. If accurate, the data will mark the longest run of below-target inflation for both measures in two years.
Fed funds futures are currently pricing in a high probability that rates will remain unchanged at the next two FOMC announcements (Sep. 20 and Nov. 1). The outlook for a rate hike rises to roughly a 42% probability for the Dec. 13 meeting.
The question is whether this week’s inflation data will support the futures market’s forecast for moderately higher odds that the Fed will squeeze monetary policy at the end of 2017?
Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden, writes that “the Fed should pause or, if it must, raise rates even more slowly than its current plans do until inflationary pressures are very clear, as in tracking above 2 percent and rising.”
The economic blowback from hurricanes supports the dovish view, says Mark Grant, chief strategist at Hilltop Securities. “I think the Fed is going to stop, meaning the Fed is not going to call for any more rate hikes now.” He adds that the possibility of a rate cut is a possibility as a tool to support the rebuilding efforts in the wake of widespread damage from Harvey and Irma.
The Treasury market isn’t expecting a rate hike anytime soon, or so it appears based on the policy sensitive 2-year yield. This rate has been trending down since July, signaling that the crowd has downgraded the odds that the Fed is set to raise rates again.
Consider, too, that a dovish bias appears to be unfolding in the year-over-year trend for the inflation-adjusted monetary base (M0 money supply). This measure of so-called high-powered money has been contracting at an annual rate for nearly two years, but the pace of decline has been slowing lately, suggesting that the Fed’s tightening phase may be temporarily winding down if not ending. The 1.3% year-over-year slide in July is the smallest decline in 17 months.
Will the trend flatline or move into positive territory in August? If it does, the data will provide another reason to wonder if the Fed is rethinking its plans for raising interest rates in the months ahead. Assuming that the monthly rate of inflation in August matches the previous month’s pace, the implied forecast for real M0’s annual pace will tick into positive territory for the first time since Feb. 2016.
“Part of what’s happened this year is that the so-called Trump trade, as it would be on the bond side, where people thought we might see some surge in inflation — I think that’s pretty much unwound here as he’s been less able to move his agenda forward,” says Jerry Paul, senior vice president of fixed income at ICON Advisers.