Central bankers begin a big week Monday, with policymakers from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan sitting down to hash out next steps in an uncertain global economy. The prediction from the markets: more of the same.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen is expected overwhelmingly to keep the Fed on its current low-interest-rate course, holding off on a rate hike as the domestic economic picture comes into focus. The market panic that began the year has receded and financial conditions have eased, but economic growth expectations have come down considerably.
At the start of the year, economists saw gross domestic product rising around 2 percent for the first quarter. Now estimates hover at below 1 percent, giving the Fed every reason to hold off on an interest rate hike that would further pump the brakes on the economy.
But some of the factors Fed bankers cited earlier in the year as barriers to raising rates have fallen. Fears over China's slowing economy have subsided somewhat. And the strength of the dollar against foreign currencies, which had increased since mid-2014, has reversed course since January. That removes one of the headwinds facing prices, giving the Fed hope of renewed inflation in 2016.
Joseph LaVorgna, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, said that although the conditions have changed, the overall outlook remains murky. The Fed “should continue to strike a cautious tone, but for different reasons from last month, as the Fed may acknowledge the recovery in global asset prices,” LaVorgna wrote in a note to investors last week.
Investors see a mere 2 percent chance that the Fed will edge benchmark interest rates up when officials meet Tuesday and Wednesday, according to futures data analyzed by the CME Group. Most investors see just one rate hike in store for 2016.
That stands in contrast to the Fed’s own projections, which as of March showed a median expectation of two interest rate increases for the year. The Fed isn’t scheduled to update its economic projections until June.
Thursday brings a new policy announcement from the Bank of Japan, which surprised markets in January by following European central banks into negative interest rate territory. Investors are expecting further monetary easing from BoJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda. The central bank has already been busy gobbling up financial assets to stimulate the Japanese economy, putting it among the top 10 stockholders in all of Japan.
Though Yellen and company won’t be able to factor the BoJ’s decision into their own deliberations, further easing in Japan could push the yen down against the dollar, complicating the Fed’s path forward.