Fed Holds Rates Steady: Setting Up for December Hike?

In an unsurprising decision, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided today once again to keep its target federal funds rate steady at 0.25-0.50%. It was widely speculated that the FOMC would hold rates steady at today’s meeting due to concerns about influencing next week’s Presidential election. Expectations now are that the Fed, if it decides to raise rates, will do so at next month’s FOMC meeting.

There were no significant changes in the language of the statement from September’s meeting. Household spending was described as “rising moderately” rather than growing strongly, price inflation and measures of inflation expectations have risen but still remain lower than what the Fed would like to see, and the case for raising rates has continued to strengthen. Voting against today’s action were Esther George from Kansas City and Loretta Mester from Cleveland, both of whom wanted to raise the target federal funds rate to 0.50-0.75%. Eric Rosengren, who voted against September’s FOMC action, switched this month to supporting the most recent FOMC action.

It remains to be seen when the Fed might raise rates, as it seems that central banks are waiting to see what the other central banks are going to do before they make their own decision. The Fed, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and others are playing a game of chicken. They are like cars heading full-speed towards a volcanic crater, soon to plunge into the chasm and assured of destruction. Yet none of them want to be the first to hike rates. That would be tantamount to admitting error, or at least admitting defeat, and would be a tremendous blow to their pride. And so meeting after meeting we see central bank after central bank holding steady.

Some of them like to talk a good game, jawboning markets into thinking that more easing might be on the way (BOJ, ECB) or that rate hikes are just around the corner (Federal Reserve), but they never back up their tough talk with action. Watching central banks nowadays is like watching a game of poker in which each player has a horrible hand, tries to bluff, and is unwilling to show his hand. And so it goes again today. Even if the Fed were to raise rates next month, it would likely only be to 0.50-0.75%, still an abnormally low figure. Given that the Fed spent all year talking about raising rates and not doing anything, it would be safe to say that rates won’t even approach 1% until December of 2017. Don’t expect full “normalization” to be reached until 2020 at the earliest, assuming the economy doesn’t go down the toilet before then, which is very likely given the huge asset bubbles that easy money policies have inflated all across the world.