FOMC: Lower-for-longer stance unchanged

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By: Andria Pichidi

The FOMC “is not even thinking about thinking about raising rates,” said Fed Chair Powell in his press conference yesterday.

As universally expected, the Fed left the funds rate band unchanged at 0% to 0.25%. But while the policy statement was nearly word for word from April’s, there were some small changes that reflected a rather pessimistic view from Fed officials. That outlook was also underscored by the Fed’s projections, including the dot plot. And while Chair Powell said he was pleasantly surprised by the shocking May jobs data, he stressed the Fed would not react to one report. He was more circumspect of the report and suggested it was more a reflection of the high degree of uncertainties. The only positive in the statement was that financial conditions had improved thanks to the Fed’s and the administration’s relief measures which were “large, forceful, and quick.”

Not surprisingly, the FOMC left the Fed funds rate band unchanged at 0% to 0.25%, and the vote was a unanimous 10-0 for a second straight meeting, after the one dissent on March 15. But, the Fed doubled down on its lower for longer stance — not only did the policy statement reiterate that the rate band will be maintained until there is  “confidence” that the economy is back on track, but the central tendency dot plot showed no rate hikes through the 2020-2022 time horizon. Additionally, the policy statement repeated from April that the virus will continue to “weigh heavily on the economy, employment, and inflation over the near term.” But this time the Fed added that the pandemic also poses “considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term.”

The Fed’s forecasts backed up those more pessimistic views too. The GDP projections were remarkably weak for 2020 across the board, with a central tendency for the 2020 of -7.6% to -5.5% that is well below our own -3.2% figure. However, all but the low-end outlier forecasts showed a big GDP bounce in 2021-22. Oddly, the jobless rate estimates were quite optimistic relative to their GDP estimates, with a 2020 central tendency of just 9.0%-10.0%, versus our estimates of 9.9%, perhaps done to avoid aggravating joblessness fears.

In terms of inflation, there were no visible concerns that the massive stimulus and the surge in the balance sheet could drive price pressures higher. In fact, there were big PCE chain price downgrades across the forecast horizon, and the 2020 central tendency was reduced to just 0.6%-1.0%, versus our own 1.2% estimate.

These projections are consistent with the view that the economy is still at risk over the medium term, with the need to keep rates lower for longer, and with the Fed not even thinking about thinking about raising rates, even as financial conditions improve.


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