Fed Leaning Toward a September Policy Shift?

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren, considered to be on the dovish side of the Federal Reserve, had this to say about the outlook for monetary policy:

However, I would also say that it may be undesirable to abruptly stop purchases, so it may make sense to consider a modest reduction in the pace of asset purchases if we see a few months more of gradual improvement in labor markets and improvement in the overall growth rate in the economy – consistent, by the way, with my forecast, which is somewhat more optimistic than that of many private forecasters.

A “few more months” I interpret as June, July, and August, which puts the beginning of tapering at the September FOMC meeting.  I think that Fed speakers are sending pretty clear signals to prepare for a September policy change.

Some big names on Wall Street don’t agree.  Vincent Reinhart at Morgan Stanley (MS) believes the data will push the Fed back to December.  The view at Goldman Sachs (GS) is reportedly similar.  To be sure, the data might cut in that direction, but I think that the bar to tapering might be lower than believed by those looking for a shift in December.  We may believe the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate argues for a longer period of QE at its current pace, but I am thinking that for the Federal Reserve, the dual mandate has more to do with the lift-off date from ZIRP than the end of QE.  They have tended to argue for more or less QE on the basis of “stronger and sustainable” improvement in labor markets, and, given the obvious shift in tone among Fed speakers, I think we have reached that benchmark.  At this point, they are just looking for a little more confirmation, in their minds erring on the side of being “too easy.”

A lot of data will be coming in the door over the next week and a half, culminating in the all-important employment report on Friday, June 5.  I think even a moderately positive run of data will further cement a September shift.  And I think the Federal Reserve would place less weight on a weak employment report than a strong employment report.  The recent pattern of general upward revisions argues for a asymmetrical response.  Moreover, I sense they are wary of being trapped by one weak number – I don’t think they would have expanded QE last September if they knew that job growth for August was 165k rather than the initially reported 96k.  They don’t want to make that mistake again.

Bottom Line:  I think the Federal Reserve is leaning toward a September policy shift.  While it is as always data dependent, I think the data will need to be pretty weak to push the Fed to December.

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About Tim Duy 348 Articles

Tim Duy is the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Department of Economics at the University of Oregon and the Director of the Oregon Economic Forum.

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