The Federal Reserve did just what investors expected. The Fed didn't change monetary policy. There was an acknowledgment of the continued strength of the economy without a hint of imminent monetary policy tightening.
The FOMC statement read: “In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.”
For now, the prospect of a March change in policy looks to be relatively remote, making June the more likely candidate.
The statement from the FOMC did not go into any of the potential controversies that may plague the Fed over the coming months:
- The balance between quantitative and monetary tightening;
- The necessity of offsetting any regulatory easing with quantitative and monetary tightening;
- The necessity of countering any fiscal easing with policy tightening and how to handle the inflation implications of the muted Trump import tax on consumers by tariffs.
Because of all that, investors should probably look out for Fed Chair Janet Yellen's Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress and speeches of other Fed officials, which will anyway allow more elaboration on these points.
It is clear that such complex policy issues cannot be adequately covered in a FOMC statement. So, let’s be patient …
Meanwhile in the UK, the Parliament has voted to allow the triggering of the article 50 divorce proceedings from the European Union (EU). There is still a bit more work to do in Parliament, but it seems likely that the process will be completed by the end of March, falling in with the government’s time line. This is not a surprise to anyone. It was clear that the House of Commons would back the results of the referendum.
In the meantime, the government’s white paper on the exit plan has been released today under the title “The process for withdrawing from the European Union.”
Of more interest to markets perhaps is the Bank of England’s (BoE) decision today. The extent to which inflation pressures are seen as prompting future tightening being a frequently discussed issue.
The UK’s consumer price inflation has reacted less aggressively than expected to the decline in sterling because the retail’s sector competitiveness seems to have forced the burden more back on the profit margins of companies. Whether this is sustainable and whether the Bank of England is willing to bet that it is sustainable, is important.
President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed has been active with two points of interest for financial markets.
On Iran, the President tweeted: “Iran is rapidly taking over more and more of Iraq even after the U.S. has squandered three trillion dollars there. Obvious long ago!” He has been adopting a rather aggressive tone and that poses risks about the impact of the administration in the Middle East with Middle Eastern investor sentiment.
In addition, there have been some harsh words for Australia including the phrase “dumb deal” as we read in the president’s tweet: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!” This comes as media reports suggest that President Trump abruptly terminated a call with the Australian Prime Minister.
With the balance of power in the Asia Pacific in question as Trump has signaled a retreat from US leadership this may be relevant in the median term.
So far and unsurprisingly, the dollar continues to sell off.
By the way, and this could be of interest to investors, so far this year, President Trump has been central to the three "dollar down" moves.
The Euro area producer price inflation (PPI) came in at +0.7 percent on a monthly basis and +1.6 percent on a yearly basis. The PPI is a better reflexion of corporate pricing power than is consumer price inflation (CPI) and therefore it matters for equity investors.
It also does matter to the bond markets as it is another indication of rising inflation pressures in the Euro area.
Also, today the United States offers unit labor costs and some productivity data, both of which are of some interest:
- Higher productivity in manufacturing means fewer manufacturing jobs per unit of output. So, it rather depends on what you think is important or as to how you want to interpret that number.
- Unit labor costs are unambiguously important to signals of underlying inflation pressures in the U.S.
Etienne "Hans" Parisis is a bank economist who has advised global billionaires and governments on the financial markets and international investments.
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