U.S., China trade fight could make central bank more cautious
The weaker-than-expected March employment report will not dissuade Federal Reserve officials from hiking rates at a gradual pace but obviates any need to signal any more aggressive posture.
Last month, the Fed’s dot plot targeted three rate hikes this year. Many economists ultimately expect the central bank to move 4 times this year, but said there is no need to signal that now.
Data released Friday showed the U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in six months. The unemployment rate held steady and there was some upward pressure on wages. Read:Unemployment rate remains at 17-year low in March
“There is no need or obligation to signal a fourth rate hike today,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
The Fed can do that if the inflation and labor market data firm, as many expect, as the year progresses, he said.
Daco thinks the Fed will ultimately decide to hike four times.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will speak on the economic outlook in Chicago at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. He is expected to argue that gradual rate hikes remain the appropriate policy path.
Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica, said the Fed remains on track to hike rates again at its June meeting.
“After that, the Fed has plenty of time to ponder whether to do three or four moves by the end of the year,” he said.
Investors are pricing in a 77% chance of a rate hike at the Fed’s June meeting, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool. They see one more move by the end of the year.
The big wild card is now uncertainty over trade policy, Daco said.
“The Fed might decide to adopt a more cautious stance if the administration follows through with threatened tariffs,” he said.
Stocks DJIA, -0.61% opened lower on Friday — not so much on the jobs report but on fears of a trade war.
Joe Lavorgna, chief economist of the Americas at Natixis, said the bond marketTMUBMUSD10Y, -1.03% doubts the Fed will hike as much as signaled in March. The Fed said short-term rates would hit 3% by 2020.
Lavorgna said the Fed will only hike one more time in 2018. “The employment report is consistent with good growth and really no inflation,” he said.