Home Latest News Central banks look to have hit peak rates. Here’s how markets think they’ll come down

Central banks look to have hit peak rates. Here’s how markets think they’ll come down

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Central banks look to have hit peak rates. Here’s how markets think they’ll come down

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A trader works, as a screen displays a news conference by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell following the Fed rate announcement, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, July 26, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The world’s major central banks paused their interest rate hiking cycles in recent weeks and with data suggesting economies are softening, markets are turning their attention to the first round of cuts.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and the Bank of England dramatically hiked rates over the last 18 months in a bid to tame runaway inflation.

The Fed on Wednesday held benchmark interest rates steady at a target range of 5.25%-5.5% for the second consecutive meeting after ending a string of 11 hikes in September.

Though Chairman Jerome Powell has been keen to reiterate that the Fed’s work on inflation is not yet done, the annual rise in the consumer price index (CPI) came in at 3.7% in September, down from a pandemic-era peak of 9.1% in June 2022.

Yet despite Powell’s refusal to close the door on further hikes in order to finish the job on inflation, markets interpreted the central bank’s tone as a slightly dovish pivot and rallied on the back of the decision.

The market is now narrowly pricing a first 25 basis point cut from the Fed on May 1, 2024, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool, with 100 basis points of cuts now expected by the end of next year.

Since last week’s decision, U.S. nonfarm payrolls came in softer than expected for October, with job creation below trend, unemployment rising slightly and a further deceleration in wages. Although headline inflation remained unchanged at 3.7% annually from August to September, the core figure came down to 4.1%, having roughly halved over the last 12 months.

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“Core PCE, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation metric, is even lower at 2.5% (3-month, annualized),” noted analysts at DBRS Morningstar.

“The lagged effects of a cooler housing market should reinforce the disinflationary trend over the next few months.”

But despite the dovish data points, short-term U.S. Treasurys reversed course to sell off on Monday, which Deutsche Bank‘s Jim Reid chalked up to investors beginning to “wonder if last week’s narrative about rate cuts was overdone. The U.S. economy is also proving more resilient than the U.K. and euro zone.

“For instance, market pricing for the Fed now implies a 16% chance of another rate hike, up from 11% on Friday,” Reid said in an email Tuesday.

“Moreover, the rate priced in by the December 2024 meeting was up +12.4bps to 4.47%. So there was a clear, albeit partial unwinding of last week’s moves.”

Reid also highlighted that this is the seventh time this cycle that markets have notably reacted on dovish speculation.

“Clearly rates aren’t going to keep going up forever, but on the previous 6 occasions we saw hopes for near-term rate cuts dashed every time. Note that we’ve still got above-target inflation in every G7 country,” he added.

The ECB

The ECB late last month ended its run of 10 consecutive hikes to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record high of 4%, with euro zone inflation falling to a two-year low of 2.9% in October and the core figure also continuing to decline.

The market is also pricing almost 100 basis point of cuts for the ECB by December 2024, but the the first 25 basis point cut is mostly priced in for April, with economic weakness across the 20-member common currency bloc fueling bets that the central bank will be the first to start unwinding its tight policy position.

Gilles Moëc, group chief economist at AXA, said October’s inflation print confirmed and amplified the message that “disinflation has come in earnest to Europe,” vindicating the ECB’s “new-found prudence.”

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“Of course, the current disinflation does not preclude the possibility that a ‘line of resistance’ would be found well above the ECB’s target. Yet, the confirmation that the euro area was flirting with recession last summer reduces this probability,” Moëc said in a research note Monday.

After the October meeting, ECB President Christine Lagarde batted away the suggestion of rate cuts, but National Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras has since openly discussed the possibility of a cut in the middle of 2024 provided inflation stabilizes below 3%.

“This implicitly advocates a forward-looking version of monetary policy which takes lags into consideration to calibrate its stance. In clear, waiting for inflation to reach 2% before cutting rates would be ‘overkill,'” Moëc said.

“There is no doubt in our mind that the current dataflow is clearly favouring the doves, but the hawks are far from having given up the fight.”

The Bank of England

The Bank of England on Thursday kept its main policy rate unchanged at 5.25% for a second consecutive meeting after ending a run of 14 straight hikes in September.

However, minutes from last week’s meeting reiterated the Monetary Policy Committee’s expectations that rates will need to stay higher for longer, with U.K. CPI holding steady at 6.7% in September. Despite this, the market on Monday was pricing around 60 basis points of cuts by December 2024, albeit starting in the second half of the year.

BNP Paribas economists on Thursday noted an “eye-catching” addition to the MPC’s guidance, which said its latest projections indicated that “monetary policy was likely to need to be restrictive for an extended period of time.”

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“Governor Andrew Bailey’s comments at the press conference indicated that this guidance was not intended as push-back on the market-implied policy rate path that underpins its latest forecasts, where a 25bp cut is not fully priced in until the second half of 2024,” they said.

“Instead, the intention was to indicate that cuts are not likely to feature as part of the conversation any time soon.”

In Thursday’s press conference, Bailey emphasized the upside risks to the Bank’s inflation projections, rather than entertaining any suggestion of cuts on the horizon.

“While we don’t think it is necessarily indicative of a high risk of further hikes in the near term, we read it as a further sign that the MPC is not considering rate cuts and will not do so for a while,” BNP Paribas added.

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