Will Fed signal rate cut movements?

The Fed is unlikely to change interest rates when it releases its decision today

By Ahmed Azzam | @3zzamous | 20 March 2024

Market open
  • Fed unlikely to signal rate cuts, eyeing inflation and job rates

  • Dot plot adjustments could signal minor future rate cuts

  • Fed's balance sheet discussion expected

  • China's central bank keeps lending rates unchanged to support economy

  • Yen weakens to four-month low

It's unlikely that the Federal Reserve will hint at any immediate reduction in interest rates, as it continues to address persistent inflation and observes a gradual increase in unemployment rates. Fed policymakers are cautious about reducing interest rates until they have solid evidence that inflation is steadily moving towards their 2% target, considered crucial for a robust economy. However, the recent climb in unemployment to its highest in two years complicates matters, requiring a nuanced approach to both inflation and job market health.

Investors and analysts will closely monitor the Fed's interest rate projections, particularly through the lens of the dot plot, which will indicate the expected trajectory of rate cuts in 2024 and 2025. A slight adjustment by just two members could signal a shift towards a 50 basis point reduction within the year. The Fed is expected to maintain its current advice on interest rates, emphasizing that cuts are premature until there's greater assurance that inflation is consistently heading towards the 2% mark.

The Fed's analysis of the labor market will also be scrutinized for insights into how employment trends are influencing policy decisions. Previously describing unemployment as "low," the committee might adjust its language to reflect the minor uptick in the jobless rate, which, while slightly higher, remains comparatively low.

Moreover, the Fed plans to discuss its strategy for its $7.5 trillion balance sheet, primarily focused on the gradual reduction through quantitative tightening. While no changes in the pace of this tightening are anticipated at this meeting, an update from Chair Jerome Powell during the press conference may offer further clarity on the committee's stance and future actions.

China's lending rates remain unchanged

In its latest policy decision, the People's Bank of China held its lending rates steady, a move anticipated by market observers. The one-year loan prime rate (LPR), crucial for corporate and household borrowing, stays at 3.45%, and the five-year rate, essential for mortgage loans, remains at 3.95%. This decision follows February's significant rate cut and aims to bolster economic recovery amidst challenges in the property sector and wavering consumer confidence. The continuation of these historically low rates was confirmed after last week's decision to keep medium-term lending rates steady.

UK experiences inflation slowdown

February 2024 saw the UK's inflation rate fall to its lowest since September 2021, reaching 3.4% year-on-year, a decline from the 4% observed in the preceding two months and slightly below the anticipated 3.5%. Additionally, the core inflation rate, which omits fluctuating prices like energy and food, dipped to 4.5%, marking the lowest point since January 2022 and just under the forecasted 4.6%.

Japanese Yen hits four-month low

The Japanese yen weakened significantly, crossing 151 against the dollar and reaching a four-month low. This depreciation reflects expectations that Japan's monetary policy will stay relatively loose, despite recent policy adjustments. A strengthening dollar, fueled by anticipations of prolonged US interest rate levels in light of robust economic indicators, has also pressured the yen. The Bank of Japan's recent rate increase from -0.1% to 0% — the first hike since 2007 — signals an end to nearly a decade of negative interest rates, driven by increasing wages and inflation.