A ‘firestorm’ of hawkish Fed speculation erupts following strong U.S. inflation reading

How hawkish will the Federal Reserve be this year?

At the moment, Wall Street economists seem to be telling their clients “more hawkish than we thought five minutes ago.”

The strong US consumer inflation data reported Thursday has set off what looks like a chain reaction of upward revisions to projected interest rates rises and where the Fed is headed with monetary policy.

Fed watchers are talking seriously about an “emergency” interest rate hike before the Fed’s next formal meeting on March 16.

The consumer price index rose 0.6% in January, with broad based gains. The year-over-year rate rose to 7.5%, the highest level in 40 years.

Read: Consumer price inflation increases sharply in January

In the wake of the data, Goldman Sachs said it now sees seven consecutive 25 basis point rate hikes at each of the remaining Fed policy meeting this year. The investment bank’s earlier prediction was five hikes.

Economists at Citi said that their base case is a now for a 50 basis point hike in March followed by quarter point hikes in May, June, September and December.

Marc Cabana, head of US rates strategy at BofA Securities, told Bloomberg Radio that it is very likely the Fed is going to raise rates by 50 basis points in March and “who knows, maybe even 50 in May.”

The talk about an inter-meeting rate hike before March 16 erupted late Thursday after St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said was open to having that discussion.

Market analyst Mohamed Ed-Erian said the frenzy of speculation is a sign the Fed has lost control of the policy narrative. He said he didn’t want to see the Fed take aggressive moves because the market will price in aggressive moves again and again.

“This is what typically happens in a developing country when a central bank loses control of the policy narrative,” he said.

March Chandler, forex analyst for Bannockburn Global Forex, said it will be difficult for Fed officials to get ahead of the curve of expectations.

It is a strange time for the Fed. The central bank has been slowly “tapering” or reducing the amount of securities is is buying under its quantitative easing program started in the depth of the pandemic. The buying of Treasurys and mortgage backed securities is scheduled to end in mid-March.

Some Fed watchers think the Fed may decide to end these purchases “cold turkey,” with the announcement coming Friday.

Under the Fed’s QE program, the Fed is scheduled to release its schedule for the last month of asset purchases.

“If the Fed releases that calendar at 3 pm, it is pretty strong forward guidance they’re not going to do an intermeeting hike,” Cabana said.

Cabana said he didn’t expect a rate hike before the March 16 meeting. He suggested that investors who want to bet on an intermeeting hike would be better positioned to play for a 75 basis point hike in March.

However, Robert Perli, head of global policy at Piper Sandler, said the firestorm among Fed watchers felt like “much ado about little.”

“We are first to recognize that inflation is too high for comfort. But what we learned yesterday from both the CPI report and FOMC members doesn’t seem enough to change the policy outlook nearly as much as the market did,” Perli said, in a note to clients.

Three Fed officials were not as hawkish as Bullard in their comments the wake of the CPI report.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin told the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research on Thursday evening that he would have to be convinced of a need for a 50 basis point rate hike, Reuters said.

In an interview with Market News International, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly downplayed the chances of a half-a-percentage point hike in March.

And Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic told CNBC after the CPI data that he was sticking with his call for four rate hikes this year, including a 25 basis point hike in March.

Tim Duy, chief US economist at SGH Macro Advisors, called these dovish Fed comments “nonsensical.”

“It is just getting to the point where the distance between the Fed’s current position and reality is too wide to ignore any longer,” Duy said, in a note to clients.

US stocks DJIA,
-0.09%

SPX,
-0.40%
were mixed late morning Friday after a wild week on Wall Street. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y,
2.044%
stayed above 2%, the highest level since 2019.

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