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Could FOMC Minutes Shift Fed Tone?

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The Fed has raised rates 7 times in a row, and the consensus among analysts is that it will do so again at the end of the month. At the moment, the majority of economics expect a 25bps hike, which would continue the “leveling off” trend from the Fed.

But, after the last meeting, Fed Chair Powell was adamant that rates would keep going up, and that the market was misreading the Fed’s attention. This hawkish tone didn’t have as much impact on the markets after the Fed raised at a slower pace. And it’s a scenario we’ve seen play out before, with Powell and the minutes of the meeting not exactly being in line. Which is why there could be some riling up in the markets tomorrow with the release of the minutes. Some analysts are wondering if there will be a repeat.

What could happen again

Back in November, there was quite a bit of discussion about when the Fed would pivot. There was expectation that following that month’s FOMC meeting, Powell would drop some hints that the next meeting would have a smaller rate hike. Instead, he came out quite adamant that rates would keep going up.

But, two weeks later, the FOMC minutes came out, and were decidedly more dovish. And the Fed did ultimately make a smaller raise at the next meeting in December. Given the hawkish tone out of Powell following the last meeting, and the general market expecting the Fed to level off rates now, there is speculation that the minutes this time around could be more dovish.

Market reaction and surprises

The minutes could have an even bigger impact this time around, because FOMC members have been largely silent since the meeting. Of course, the last couple of weeks have been the year-end holidays, so it’s expected that there wouldn’t be much Fed commentary. Now, traders are looking to set up for the coming year, and the minutes are the first explanation of what the Fed is thinking about the current inflation trends.

The thing is, Powell wasn’t the only hawkish sign from the last meeting. We also got the quarterly update with the dot-plot matrix, which shows where members see policy rates in the coming months. And there, the median rate expectation was boosted from 4.5% to 5.0%, meaning that the consensus among Fed members is more hawkish than it was at the end of the third quarter.

Figuring out where things are going

The market is currently pricing in a terminal rate of under 5.0%, while the Fed is insisting that the terminal rate will be over 5.0%. Who turns out to be right will likely depend on the data, but it doesn’t take much for the Fed to prove the market wrong. With rates at 4.5% at the moment, all the Fed would have to do is raise rates by 50bps at the next meeting, repeating what they did in December, and the market would have to adjust. Almost a third of economists are forecasting that, as a matter of fact.

The takeaway from the minutes, therefore, is likely to be around how confident the members sound in their projection that rate hikes will keep coming. If they emphasize being more data dependent than anchoring expectations, then the market might believe them to be more dovish than Powell communicated most recently.

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