The Fed Needs To Practice Patience

It’s beginning to look a lot like 50 basis points.

OK, that’s not as catchy as that more famous Christmas tune. But that’s shaping up to be the likely outcome at the Federal Reserve’s next two-day monetary policy meeting December 13-14.

While inflation has slowed only a little bit since the Fed’s last rate hike on November 2 — its fourth 75-basis point increase in a row – the consensus seems to be that the Fed will moderate the size of its next hike to 50 bps, for no other reason perhaps than to see what effect its rate-raising process has had on the economy.

Indeed, the minutes of the Fed’s previous meeting at the beginning of November signaled such an outcome. “A substantial majority of participants judged that a slowing in the pace of increase would soon be appropriate,” the minutes said.

The Fed has now raised its benchmark federal funds rate by a cumulative 375 bps since it started hiking rates back in March, when the rate was at zero. A 50-bp hike in December would put the fed funds’ rate at an upper range of 4.25%.

While a slight moderation in the next increase will be welcomed by just about everyone, from Christmas shoppers to homebuyers to investors, it’s not likely to be the last, and possibly for a while yet.

That was the word handed down this week by New York Fed President John Williams. While he “did nothing to push back against expectations” of a half-point rate rise at the December meeting, the Wall Street Journal’s headline was more hawkish, quoting Williams as saying that “inflation fight could last into 2024,” meaning more rate hikes over a longer period of time than the market expects.

“Mr. Williams said he expected that rates would have to rise in 2023 to somewhat higher levels” than he had estimated back in September, the Journal said.

If the whole point of the Fed’s rate-raising regime is to try to slow the economy and thus reduce the heat under inflation, you don’t have to be a Harvard-trained economist to see that it hasn’t made that much of a dent so far and that it’s a long way from ending its restrictive cycle. Continue reading "The Fed Needs To Practice Patience"