Fed debate shifts from large cut to whether to cut at all
The Federal Reserve’s debate shifted from how much to cut interest rates later this month to whether to move at all after hiring in June trumped the expectations of economists.
Yields on two-year U.S. Treasuries jumped to 1.87% from 1.76% the day before, reflecting reduced odds of the Fed aggressively reducing borrowing costs in the near term.
Fed funds futures, which had been indicating some possibility of a half-point rate cut in July before the Labor Department’s data, are now pricing a quarter-point reduction this month, and at one point on Friday even showed that outcome was less than 100% certain.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, who has said uncertainties in the U.S. outlook could call for lower rates, will give his read on the job market next week in two days of semiannual testimony before Congress.
The Federal Open Market Committee on July 30-31 will discuss whether the economy needs an “insurance cut” amid a slowing global economy, trade frictions and low inflation.
Officials will also take pains to stress that they’re not responding to political pressure. Despite what he termed “great jobs numbers,” President Donald Trump on Friday repeated his call for the Fed to cut interest rates, saying it would make growth “be like a rocket ship.”
“It is going to be a pretty well-debated meeting,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, who said a half-point cut is now off the table. “I think ultimately they ease because they signaled it so strongly. It is an insurance ease. The cost of such of an ease isn’t high because inflation doesn’t present any kind of near-term risk.”
While the Fed dropped “patient” from its policy guidance at its June meeting, the strength in the pace of hiring will enable the FOMC to delay the onset of a mini-easing cycle until September; but the central bank will still need to cut in order to steepen the yield curve.
Payrolls climbed 224,000, compared with the median economist estimate for 160,000, after a relatively weak 72,000 advance the prior month, according to the Labor Department figures.
The jobless rate ticked up to 3.7% from a half-century low of 3.6% while average hourly earnings increased 3.1% from a year earlier, slightly less than projected.
In a report after the employment release, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists led by Jan Hatzius said recent Fed speeches and interviews suggest the central bank will go ahead with a cut in July.
“We continue to see rate cuts as the most likely outcome,” with 60% odds of a July quarter-point cut, 15% odds of a half-point reduction, and 25% odds of no policy change.
The Fed separately on Friday issued its semiannual monetary-policy report to Congress ahead of Powell’s testimony, which begins Wednesday.
The report repeated wording from the June Federal Open Market Committee statement saying officials would closely monitor incoming data and “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.”
“The July meeting is probably a closer call than what the markets are implying,” said Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research. “If you were thinking they would cut rates three times this year, the momentum is so strong in July that that is not going to happen.”
There has been growing sentiment on the part of Fed officials that a rate cut might be needed this year. Eight of 17 penciled in a reduction by the end of the year in the June “dot plot,” which shows quarterly forecasts for the central bank’s benchmark rate.
“The rebound in job growth in June likely takes a 50-basis-point cut off the table,” said Ryan Sweet, head of monetary-policy research at Moody’s Analytics Inc. “I still think the odds of a cut are around 65%,” which would be intended as insurance against a slowdown, boost inflation expectations and “signal the Fed isn’t going to kill this expansion.”