As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) this week held steady on both the fed funds rate (2.25%–2.50%) and the interest on excess reserves (IOER, 2.35%). But, more importantly, the FOMC statement emphasized higher economic uncertainty, and FOMC officials weighed rate cuts in response to this more uncertain economic outlook. Indeed, roughly half of the FOMC officials are now forecasting 50 basis points of rate cuts will be appropriate before year-end 2019, while many of those who are not currently forecasting a cut, according to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, “agree that the case for additional accommodation has strengthened since the May meeting.”
The Fed’s policy outlook now appears largely in line with PIMCO’s expectations that the policy outlook is binary: If U.S.–China trade tensions aren’t at least deescalated around the G-20 meeting or if other downside risks to the U.S. economy materialize, we see the potential for a 50 basis point policy rate cut as early as the July 31 FOMC meeting.
Conversely, if trade tensions improve and economic data is stable, we expect the Fed will try to delay taking any action.
Uncertainty underpins dovish tone
The tone of the FOMC statement and press conference was a notable shift from the May meeting, where Chairman Powell declined to discuss the economic conditions that would warrant rate cuts, and instead emphasized the still solid economic outlook and pointed to various transitory factors that have recently negatively affected core PCE inflation (personal consumption expenditures – the Fed’s preferred inflation measure).
To be sure, much has changed since that meeting, greatly increasing the uncertainty around the economic outlook. The Trump administration’s threatened tariffs on Mexican imports, though they were not implemented (at least not yet), along with escalation of tensions with China, have driven tremendous uncertainty in the U.S. economic outlook.