Fed's Powell, in apparent dovish shift, says rates near neutral

Powell defends Fed charge hikes amid Trump onslaught			 0					By		Marta Subat

Powell defends Fed charge hikes amid Trump onslaught 0 By Marta Subat

But minutes from the Fed's November 7-8 policy-setting meeting, released on Thursday, as well as remarks over the last two weeks, point to a reassessment of the Fed's longstanding promise of "further gradual rate increases" that would extend two years of almost uninterrupted quarterly tightening.

Trump has tended to lash out at the central bank whenever there is volatility in the stock market, a phenomenon that is sometimes but not always related to the Fed.

Rates "are still low by historical standards, and they remain just below the broad range of estimates of the level that would be neutral for the economy", he added.

"The health of the economy gradually but steadily improved, and about three years ago the [Fed] judged that the interests of households and businesses, of savers and borrowers, were no longer best served by such extraordinarily low rates", he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index surged more than 600 points to finish at 25,366.

The Fed held rates steady at its November meeting, and made no mention in its statement after that session about the sharp sell-off in equity markets in the weeks before it.

Market participants interpreted that as a dovish signal for future rate hikes, compared with Powell's previous remarks in early October that rates were "a long way" from neutral, a level neither stimulative nor restrictive to the economy.

Currently, the Federal Open Market Committee forecasts three quarter-point hikes for next year after a December increase, which is virtually guaranteed.

Fed officials express caution about pace of future hikes
Wall Street embraced the news with a rally for Treasuries and surge of more than 2 per cent for major USA stock indexes. The current system relies on the Fed paying interest on some reserves to set the federal funds rate .

When interest rates are neutral, the economy is on a sustainable path. Deviations from neutrality can cause booms and busts.

Nevertheless, it is a tricky concept: Economists put the range between 2.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent.

US crude oil futures settled at $51.45 per barrel, up $1.16 or 2.31 percent. "All he is doing is pointing out an obvious idea".

But Powell's most recent words should be taken along with other recent remarks in which he showed concern for the global economic outlook. After mid-year, Ashworth said he expects that "a slowdown in economic growth to below potential forces (the Fed) to the side lines".

"His description highlights the significant uncertainty around estimates of neutral, a theme he mentioned at his speech at Jackson Hole in August", Jan Hatzius, chief United States economist for Goldman Sachs, wrote in a note to clients Wednesday.

"Powell said nothing to suggest that he or the majority of the FOMC think they'll be able to stop at the bottom of the range, after just one more hike", said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. "It's ironic that a concept, the neutral rate, in which the Fed has such little confidence, has swung markets so dramatically in the past two months", Basta said. "We already passed that, as the housing market shows", he said on CNBC, referring to this year's steady decline in home sales and construction - something analysts partly blame on higher mortgage rates.

In the week ahead, the Fed will see one of the last big economic statistics before its next interest rate decision.

But Fed members agreed they would offer fewer signals about the future in their public statements, insisting, as Powell did this week, that they would instead monitor economic data and respond accordingly.

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