The Federal Reserve’s long-awaited liftoff on its benchmark interest rate won’t happen until September, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, as officials try to spur inflation and hiring after the economy stumbled in the first quarter.
Policy makers meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington will assess the impact of a harsh winter and a stronger dollar, which may have helped reduce the pace of economic growth to the lowest in a year, economists said. A hiring slowdown last month is adding to caution inside the Federal Open Market Committee, said Thomas Costerg at Standard Chartered Bank in New York.
“They would like to see more signs of a rebound in the second quarter,” said Costerg, the New York-based senior U.S. economist. “There are some fears that the headwinds from the strong dollar and the drop in oil investment may persist.”
Seventy-three percent of 59 economists said the first rate increase since June 2006 will come in September, according to a Bloomberg survey conducted April 22-24. That’s up from 37 percent in a March survey, when a majority of economists predicted an increase in June or July.
Economic growth may have slowed to a 1 percent annual pace in the first three months of 2015 from 2.2 percent in the prior quarter, according to a separate survey. Among the reasons: a decline in energy-related investments caused by a slump in oil prices. The GDP report will be released at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Washington.
The Fed last month dropped an assurance that it will be “patient” in raising rates. Instead, officials said they want to see further labor-market gains and be “reasonably confident” inflation will move back up toward their 2 percent goal before tightening policy.
“The Fed has entered into a more purely data-dependent phase,” said Laura Rosner, U.S. economist for BNP Paribas in New York. “The focus is on how the economy is performing relative to” their outlook. The Fed has kept its benchmark federal funds rate near zero since December 2008.
The economy’s stutter could delay the gains in labor compensation needed to meet the inflation test.
Unemployment needs to fall to 5 percent or less for wage gains to accelerate to pre-recession levels, according to 83 percent of economists responding to the survey.
The jobless rate was unchanged at 5.5 percent in March, while gains in non-farm payrolls slowed to 126,000, less than half the previous month’s increase.
Average hourly earnings rose 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, in line with the 2 percent average gains since the recovery began in June 2009. The compensation measure rose 3.2 percent in December 2007, when the previous business cycle peaked.
Declining oil prices have pushed down inflation, and the Fed has been under its 2 percent target for the personal consumption expenditures price index for 34 straight months. The PCE index rose 0.3 percent for the 12 months ending February.
Inflation isn’t forecast to rise any time soon. More than 90 percent of economists surveyed said they don’t expect the index to show three consecutive months of 2 percent or higher readings until the first quarter of 2016 or later, with 30 percent estimating those price gains will come after 2016.
Mike Pond, head of global inflation market strategy at Barclays Plc in New York, said that’s a sign of progress.
“We are at the point where the labor market is tight enough where we have some increase in inflation on the forecast horizon rather than a pick-up being non-existent,” he said.
Aside from the September rate-increase projection, economists were also in agreement on what will happen to the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note once the central bank starts raising rates.
Some 77 percent of respondents said the yield would rise with Fed rate increases, 20 percent said it will stay about the same and 3 percent said the yield would fall. The 10-year yield stood at 1.92 percent late on Monday in New York versus 2.17 percent at the end of last year.
New York Fed President William C. Dudley has said market reactions to the first rate increase could affect the pace of subsequent moves.
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