Back to basics for the Fed
Against a backdrop of rising inflation, we expect the US Federal Reserve to announce a rate hike of 25 basis points at its March meeting. While the decision should not surprise markets, the Fed will likely emphasise its readiness to stay agile in the event of stronger or more persistent inflation.
There are no surprises to be expected from the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which should announce a hike of 0.25 percentage points to the federal funds rate – its first increase since 2018. In order not to add stress to already highly volatile equity and bond markets, Fed Chair Jerome Powell clearly pre-empted the committee's decision. On 2 March, before the US House of Representatives Finance Committee1, he stated his desire to propose a 25-basis-point hike.
This decision is consistent with inflation that continues to rise and may not have peaked yet. The latest inflation figures do not yet reflect the consequences of the Russian armed forces’ invasion of Ukraine:
- In February, the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 0.8% (the January figure was 0.6%)2.
- Over one year, CPI accelerated by 7.9% (compared with 7.5% in January). This was the largest increase since 1982.
- Core CPI, excluding energy and food products, rose by 0.5% (0.6% in January), and by 6.4% over one year.
The Fed’s expected decision is in line with the attention the Fed pays to second-round effects on both wages and product prices: companies have gained significant pricing power, as highlighted in the latest Beige Book. A rise in rates is also consistent with a tightening labour market, which suggests that the objective of full employment has been achieved, paving the way for less accommodative monetary policy. Finally, the Fed must react to pressures on inflation expectations. Inflation break-evens on 5-year Treasuries rose to 3.5% from 3% at the start of the year, while the 5-year/5-year inflation swap is at 2.65%3.
Mr Powell is also expected to emphasise his willingness to remain nimble, and to be ready to raise rates more aggressively, if necessary, with increases of more than 0.25% in the event of stronger or more persistent inflation. The Fed is going into emergency mode, after it missed its window to act in 2021 as the health crisis continued to blur visibility. Despite high uncertainty about the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine, in terms of growth and inflation, the Fed is clearly returning to promoting price stability – one of its fundamental mandates.
This rate hike should not surprise the markets, which are expecting between six and seven hikes in 2022. However, we are not entering a bullish cycle that could unfold over several years. Investors understand that these will be tactical hikes linked to spiking inflation. The markets also anticipate rate cuts in 2024, in the face of a growing probability of the US economy entering a recession in the medium term.
After the European Central Bank's speech on 10 March, the Fed's announcements should mark a return to fundamentals for central banks. Faced with price shocks – which affect society’s most vulnerable and, importantly, can be a destabilising factor for democracies – central banks consider the fight against inflation to be essential for promoting political stability.
1. Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress, Before the Committee on Financial Services, US House of Representatives, Washington, DC, 2 March 2022.
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2022.
3. Bloomberg, 11 March 2022.
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About the author
Global Chief Investment Officer Fixed Income
Franck Dixmier is Global Chief Investment Officer (CIO) Fixed Income and a Managing Director with Allianz Global Investors. In this capacity, he leads and oversees the development of the firm’s Fixed Income capability and investment offering. He is a member of AllianzGI’s Investment Executive Committee and International Management Group.
Look for active opportunities following the Fed’s hawkish move
The US Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate against a backdrop of high inflation and concerns about the geopolitical situation stemming from events in Ukraine. While markets have previously taken rate-hike cycles in their stride, this time could be different, as the Fed seems to be more hawkish than initially expected. Investors should actively seek out relative-return opportunities.