In the run up to Wednesday’s meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee bond markets over-reacted. The worry for those few days was that the Fed was going to very aggressively raise interest rates. Maybe as many as four interest rates were on tap for 2017, the most fearful pundits said.
Then came the meeting itself and the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates by 25 basis points and stress in its press release and in Janet Yellen’s press conference that it didn’t see any need to move rates aggressively higher even as inflation pressed toward the central bank’s target of 2%. The Fed, Yellen said, would be OK if inflation, temporarily, moved above 2%. That 2% figure was a goal and not a ceiling, she said.
And now, today Friday March 17, the financial markets have moved to the other end of the dial from those pre-meeting worries. Markets have decided that the Fed’s comments indicate that Janet Yellen & Co. are very dovish on inflation and interest rates. At the close of trading on Thursday the 10-year Treasury had dropped to 2.53%, that’s below the peak this week of 2.63%. Today the yield dropped further to 2.50%. That’s not the reaction of a market that’s afraid of future interest rate increases.And indeed the odds in the Fed Funds Futures market on two more interest rate increases this year dropped from 60% to 51%.
Which, if I may observe as a former English major, indicates the dangerous subjectivity of interpreting verbal statements.
Because nothing in the Fed numbers indicates that the central bank is as dovish on inflation and interest rates as the market now feels it is.
For example, the number of Fed officials now looking for three rate increases this year jumped to 9 out of 17 at this meeting. That’s up from only 6 in December.
And then there’s the evidence of the Fed’s “dot plot.” The “dot plot” is a graphic representation of the opinion of participates in the Open Market Committee on where they think interest rates should be. The “dot plot” after this meeting shows that majority of participants is looking for a Fed Funds rate of 1.5% at the end of 2017, up from 1% now. In 2018 the majority opinion moves up to a little above 2%. And then in 2019 the “dot plot” reading goes up to 3% or so.
I don’t think that’s what a drop to a 2.5% yield on the 10-year Treasury is pricing in.
The Fed has said that it is looking for two more interest rate increases in 2017 and then three more in 2018. In contrast the financial markets look to be pricing in 1.5 more interest rate increases in 2017 and just two in 2018, RBC Global Markets told the Financial Times today.