Traders returning from the long holiday weekend will turn their attention to more commentary out of the Federal Reserve, with the Federal Open Market Committee's latest meeting minutes and a speech from Fed Chair Jerome Powell on deck. Relatively few new economic data reports or corporate earnings results are scheduled for release.
The FOMC's meeting minutes, due out Wednesday afternoon, will elucidate members' thinking from their March meeting. At the conclusion of that meeting, the central bank's median forecast for economic growth was sharply upwardly revised, reflecting improving growth trends as the trajectory of new COVID-19 infections improved and vaccinations broadened out. The central bank said it expects real GDP to grow 6.5% this year, versus the 4.2% rate it anticipated in December. The Fed also said it sees the unemployment rate improving to 4.5% by year-end before returning to its pre-pandemic level of 3.5% by 2023.
Despite these improving projections, the Fed still telegraphed that interest rates would likely remain on hold at current near-zero levels through 2023, with the central bank maintaining its ultra-accommodative monetary policy posturing despite a quicker-than-previously-expected economic recovery. Market participants have been wary of this message, with the Fed suggesting a stubborn tilt toward easy monetary policy even in the face of rising inflation. The Fed's latest forecast showed the median member believed core inflation would rise to 2.4% this year, hitting and exceeding the Fed's 2% target two years earlier than previously anticipated.
Fed Chair Powell said in his mid-March press conference that inflation would need to be "on track to exceed 2% moderately for some time" in order for the Fed to consider its inflation goal met and allow for liftoff on rates. However, that assertion has left some room for interpretation by market participants, leading many to speculate the Fed may be pushed to adjust policy sooner than it has recently telegraphed.
According to a recent survey from Deustche Bank, "The current gap between the market and the Fed is mostly about forecast disagreement. In particular, survey respondents expect that core PCE in the 2.2%-2.3% range in 2022 and 2023 will beget a more hawkish Fed response," Deutsche Bank economist Matthew Luzzetti wrote in a note. "While we learned at the FOMC meeting that 2.1% core PCE [personal consumption expenditures] inflation is not sufficiently high to trigger liftoff, it is still unclear whether inflation rates in the 2.2%-2.3% range — as expected by our survey and market pricing — would be high enough to get the Fed to tighten. This ambiguity is one drawback of the Fed's flexible average inflation targeting (FAIT) approach which leaves key parameters undefined."
"If the Fed were to clearly signal that core PCE inflation in the 2.2%-2.3% range for a year or two is consistent with their view of FAIT and would not trigger a tightening of monetary policy, they could impact market pricing," he added. "Conversely, if the FOMC believes they would raise rates in response to these inflation realizations, then the market is currently pricing an appropriate reaction function and it will take some time for a verdict on whether the Fed or market is correct about the persistence of this inflation shock."
But while the jury appears to be out among market participants when it comes to the timing of the next rate hike, many agree that the first step toward tightening by the Federal Reserve will likely occur in their crisis-era asset purchase program. Fed Chair Powell said that the central bank would be looking for "substantial further progress" — and specifically "actual progress" in the data and not "forecast progress" — toward the Fed's employment and inflation goals before considering tapering.
Still, with the latest batch of March economic data exceeding estimates, the Fed may soon begin offering up firmer guidance around its plan for tapering the $120 billion per-month asset purchase program, which was first put into place at the start of the pandemic last year.
"Financial conditions should remain quite accommodative for a while, and in our view risks an overshoot," Rich Rieder, BlackRock chief investment officer, said in a note. "We think that the Fed should be able to taper asset purchases sooner than many expect and perhaps by the end of the year, or early next year, which suggests to us that communicating its plan could come as early as the June meeting."
While the forthcoming meeting minutes will not take into account FOMC members' appraisal of the latest batch of economic data, it will offer market participants a sense of whether some members were inclined to look past the first signs of a faster-than-expected economic recovery in dictating the direction of monetary policy.
That said, Fed Chair Powell's public remarks this coming Thursday will offer a more timely view of the central bank's policy thinking. Powell will be speaking at an International Monetary Fund panel on the global economy Thursday afternoon.
The discussion will come about a week after the Labor Department's March jobs report, which showed a much better than expected gain of 916,000 non-farm payrolls and a dip in the unemployment rate to 6.0%. Plus, last week's Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing purchasing managers' index unexpectedly jumped to a 37-year high, with some survey participants already citing a rise in commodity prices and a supply and demand mismatch that could exacerbate upward price pressures. Market participants will eye Powell's address to see whether or not these prints shift the needle in the Fed's monetary policy projections.
"We expect that as the data come in, the volatility in Fed views will become more pronounced over coming months," RBC Capital Markets economists wrote in a note last week.
Monday: Markit U.S. Services PMI, March Final (60.2 expected, 60.0 in prior print); Markit U.S. Composite PMI, March Final (59.1 in prior print); ISM Services Index, March (58.7 expected, 55.3 in February); Factory Orders, February (-0.5% expected, 2.6% in January); Durable Goods Orders, February Final (-1.1% expected, -1.1% in prior print); Durable Goods Orders excluding transportation, February final (-0.9% expected, -0.9% in prior print); Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, February final (-0.8% in prior print); Non-defense capital goods shipments excluding aircraft, February final (-1.0% in prior print)
Tuesday: JOLTS Job Openings, February (6.944 million expected, 6.917 million in prior print)
Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended April 2 (-2.2% during prior week); Trade Balance, February (-$70.5 billion expected, -$68.2 billion in January); Consumer credit, February ($2.800 billion expected, -$1.315 billion in January) FOMC Meeting Minutes, March Meeting
Thursday: Initial jobless claims, week ended April 3 (690,000 expected, 719,000 during prior week); Continuing claims, week ended March 27 (3.794 million during prior week)
Friday: Producer Price Index, month-over-month, March (0.5% expected, 0.5% in February); Producer Price Index excluding food and energy, month-over-month, March (0.2% expected, 0.2% in February); Producer Price Index, year-over-year, March (3.8% expected, 2.5% in February); Producer Price Index excluding food and energy year-over-year, March (2.7% expected, 2.5% in February); Wholesale inventories, month-over-month, February final (0.5% expected, 0.5% in prior print)
Thursday: Constellation Brands (STZ) before market open
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck
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