The Federal Reserve’s minutes from its January 31 to February 1 meeting show the odds still slightly tilted to waiting a bit longer before raising interest rates. The worries that are pushing the Fed toward some delay include uncertainty over the effects of a stronger dollar and the dimensions of any fiscal stimulus plan coming from the Trump administration. Waiting until after the March 15 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee to the May 3 or June 14 meetings would enable the U.S. central bank to clarify those worries.
“Many participants,” the Fed’s minutes said, “expressed the view that it might be appropriate to raise the Federal Funds rate again fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations or if the risks of overshooting the committee’s maximum-employment and inflation objectives increased.”
Before the minutes were released, traders were pricing only a 17.7% chance of a rate increase when the Open Market Committee meets on March 15, according to the CME’s Fed Watch tool. After the release of the minutes, the odds rose to 22.1%. (The Fed Watch tool uses the prices of futures in the Fed Funds market to calculate the market odds of a move on interest rates.)
The biggest shift came in the odds for an interest rate increase on May 3, which jumped to 52.1% from 45.9%. For the June 14 meeting, the odds of an interest rate increase of 25 basis points or more now stand at 72%.
The Fed didn’t advance discussions on reducing the central bank’s $4.45 trillion balance sheet by, for example, ceasing to reinvest the cash when a Treasury issue matures. In the January statement the Open Market Committee repeated that reinvestments would continue until rate normalization is “well under way.” At the meeting Fed officials simply said, according to the minutes, that they’d address balance sheet reduction at future meetings.