Hawkish Fed Risk Fades After Powell's Remarks: He 'Set The Bar Extremely High For Rate Hikes'

BY Benzinga | ECONOMIC | 05/01/24 05:44 PM EDT

In its latest policy meeting on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve opted to maintain its benchmark interest rates at 5.25%-5.50%, aligning with market predictions but offering a cautious stance on the return the 2% inflation target, noting that there has recently been “a lack of further progress.”

The Fed has also adjusted its approach to quantitative tightening, now reducing the monthly redemption cap on Treasury securities more gradually than expected ? from $60 billion to $25 billion ? while maintaining the $35-billion cap on agency debt and mortgage-backed securities.

During the press conference, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell underscored the necessity of patience, indicating that more time is needed for the current restrictive monetary policies to effectively curb inflation.

Powell’s remarks appeared to quell the immediate fears of rate hikes. He emphasized, “I think it’s unlikely that the next policy rate move will be a hike,” pointing to the need for “persuasive evidence” that current policies aren’t sufficiently restrictive to drive down inflation sustainably to the 2% goal.

Furthermore, Powell reiterated that it would be premature to scale back on restrictive policies until there is greater confidence in inflation moving sustainably toward the target.

Economists Weigh In: Dovish Undertones

Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, noted Powell’s decidedly dovish stance.

“Not only did Powell choose not to give a hawkish press conference, he took great pains to be dovish. He set the bar extremely high for rate hikes, focusing on maintaining current rates for a prolonged period rather than pivoting towards rate increases,” said Zaccarelli.

The expert highlighted Powell consistently leaned away from suggesting any hawkish shifts that interpret every economic signal with an optimistic bend, from acknowledging higher-than-expected inflation figures to recognizing softer economic growth.

Zaccarelli believed Powell positioned the Fed in a way that prioritizes economic recovery, setting a high threshold for any future rate hikes which he thinks are unlikely unless absolutely necessary.

Regarding the market implications, “This is very bullish for the stock market and largely removes the risk of rate hikes for this year, despite inflation that is increasingly looking stuck 50% higher ? or more ? than their target,” Zaccarelli stated.

Mohamed El Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz, also stressed the perception of a dovish Powell.

“The tone and content of Powell's remarks were notably more dovish than the initial statement suggested. It remains to be seen whether his views reflect a collective consensus or his own perspective,” commented El Erian.

He suggested the forthcoming release of the meeting’s minutes would be crucial in clarifying whether Powell's dovish stance is fully supported by the rest of the committee or if it reflects a more individual perspective.

Larry Tentarelli, chief technical strategist at Blue Chip Daily Trend Report, echoed concerns about the rate trajectory, suggesting that investors might see fewer rate cuts, if any, this year.

“Fed Chairman Jerome Powell seemed to push back on the idea of rate hikes. His early commentary today was that the FOMC believes that current rates are restrictive and are weighing on demand. Powell also stated that the Fed believes that policy stance is appropriate to the current situation,” Tentarelli explained.

The expert believes the Fed will remain data dependent, and will assess its monetary policy stance meeting to meeting.

He doesn’t expect any rate cuts in 2024, unless the annual core Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) price index ? Fed’s favorite inflation gauge ? falls below 2.4%. In alternative, “a very weak jobs market could prompt the Fed to cut, but this is not the case now,” he added.

“We do not view a ?no cut scenario' in 2024 as a negative, as long as inflation does not turn up and the economy holds up reasonably well,” he stated.

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This image was created using artificial intelligence MidJourney

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