With the US economy humming and the Fed seemingly pushing all the right buttons, it makes sense to expect more of the same in 2018. That means more rate hikes on the way. The question is: How many?
The US Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) ended 2017 quietly by doing the expected—raising the benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points. Based on the “dot plot” chart of each committee member’s rate expectations, a majority expect to hike rates three more times in 2018.
The Economy Is Hitting On All Cylinders
Our 2018 forecast is more aggressive on rates, calling for four hikes. A strong outlook for the US economy, buoyed by an improved global picture, underpins our assessment. To put it simply, the economy is as strong as it’s been since the global financial crisis.
The data support our assessment. Retail sales were robust to kick off the holiday season, and fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) is tracking at about 3% on a quarterly annualized basis. If growth hits that rate, it would be the third straight quarter, the first such streak since 2004–2005. We expect growth to remain above trend in 2018, and so does the Fed—it upped its 2018 forecast, too.
The labor market is strong as well. The economy has added roughly 175,000 jobs per month over the past year, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.1%. The Fed’s revised its forecast on that front, too, projecting the unemployment rate to drop below 4.0% in 2018.
Inflation—or Lack of It—Remains a Puzzle
With the economy and labor market so strong, it seems very straightforward to expect three or more interest-rate hikes next year. After all, the Fed raised rates three times this year, even though that strength wasn’t nearly as obvious. But the market is still pricing in fewer than two hikes in 2018.