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Easing inflation solidifies expectations for Fed's February rate hike

Published 01/12/2023, 03:41 PM
Updated 01/12/2023, 05:14 PM
© Reuters.

By Liz Moyer -- Easing inflation is feeding expectations that the Federal Reserve will lift interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point next month, a slower pace of tightening than at its meetings last year.

The CME FedWatch Tool, which is based on CME Group’s 30-Day Fed Fund futures prices, shows 93.2% believe rates will rise 0.25 percentage points, to a range of 4.50% to 4.75%, when the Fed makes its next decision Feb. 1.

December's inflation report showed prices cooled a bit last month, with the consumer price index rising 6.5% over a year, compared with a 7.1% rise in the 12 months ending in November.

Fed officials speaking at separate events appeared to agree that further interest rate increases could come in smaller increments than the Fed's aggressive actions last year.

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker told a Chamber of Commerce gathering in Malvern, Pa., that the central bank could raise rates at a slower pace than it did last year.

“I expect that we will raise rates a few more times this year, though, to my mind, the days of us raising them 75 basis points at a time have surely passed,” Harker said, referring to four successive rate increases last year of three-quarters of a percentage point. The Fed slowed that pace in December with a half-point increase.

“In my view, hikes of 25 basis points will be appropriate going forward,” Harker said.

Just 6.8% believe there will be a half-percentage point increase next month, according to the CME FedWatch Tool, down from 23.3% who thought that on Wednesday.

The Fed has been consistent in its message that it wasn’t ready to pause or pivot on rates anytime soon as it works to tame inflation.

Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin told a meeting of the Virginia Bankers Association that it “makes sense to steer more deliberately as we work to bring inflation down,” a remark that also suggests he believes further rate increases can be smaller than they were last year.

Bloomberg reported that Barkin said he’s thinking about an interest-rate path that is “slower, but longer and potentially higher.”

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said policy makers should work quickly to get rates above 5% to tame inflation. Speaking virtually at an event sponsored by the Wisconsin Bankers Association, Bullard said “it would be appropriate to get there as soon as possible” and stay there.

“I don’t really see any purpose in dragging things out through 2023,” he said.

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Note: National inflation rate is still over 3 times The Federal Reserve's target. (500 bps. would be better.)
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