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Econometric Advisors' blog

Fed Watch: Indecision by committee

Mar 31, 2017, 12:18 PM by James Bohnaker

The Fed is one quarter into what will be its most active year raising interest rates in more than a decade. The median forecast among Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) members implies two more 25-basis point (bps) increases this year, in addition to the one that took place March 15. But the statistician in us knows that averages can be deceiving; what about the distribution of possible outcomes? Most FOMC members agree that rates will need to head higher in the next few years, but how quickly is a source of great debate (this is macroeconomics, after all).

For instance, the median projection for the Fed’s key interest rate at the end of 2018 is 2.1%, but individual projections range from 0.9% to 3.4%—that’s a huge variance! Underlying the disparity in interest rate expectations is a broader range of economic risks. Philadelphia’s Fed president Charles Evans is one of the more hawkish members, based his view that upside risks from fiscal stimulus have increased (our economists are skeptical). Boston’s Eric Rosengren is also in the hawkish camp, but rather because of the mitigating effect higher rates are thought to have on excessive risk-taking. Commercial real estate is his main source of concern, and Rosengren fears that a sharp reversal in property valuations could topple systemically important CRE lenders—and by extension, the greater economy. CBRE EA is of the view that some mild price corrections could occur in isolated markets and asset types, but not on a wider scale.

What’s interesting is that Rosengren has flipped from being a proponent of easy money, to his newfound aggressive stance. In doing so, he has pulled Fed Chair Janet Yellen and a few other members closer to that side of the aisle. Just a year ago, it was the doves that had Yellen harping on “lower for longer” because of the risks posed by raising rates too soon. Fed officials reserve the right to change their minds, and the alternative—algorithmic policymaking—is flawed. Don’t be surprised to see greater indecision as uncertainty rises later in the cycle. Investors should hedge against the full range of interest rate outcomes; cap rates depend upon it.

 

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