Sunday, July 28, 2013

FOMC Preview: Economic Slowdown

by Bill McBride on 7/28/2013 10:19:00 AM

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the FOMC statement expected to be released at 2:00 PM ET on Wednesday.

Expectations are the FOMC will take no action at this meeting (the FOMC will probably not adjust the size of their purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities and Treasury securities).

Jon Hilsenrath at the WSJ wrote on Thursday: Up for Debate at Fed: A Sharper Easy-Money Message

The Federal Reserve is on track to keep its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program in place at its policy meeting next week, but officials will debate changes to the way the central bank describes its plans for the program and for short-term interest rates.

At their July 30-31 meeting, Fed officials are likely to discuss whether to refine or revise "forward guidance," the words they use to describe their intentions for the next few years.
Any discussion on forward guidance will probably show up in the FOMC minutes, and not in the statement. It is possible that they could lower the unemployment rate threshold, although my guess is the guidance in the statement will remain as follows (Statement from June 19):
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored.
A key question for the meeting this week is how the FOMC will recognize the weaker incoming data.  Q2 GDP will be released Wednesday morning before the FOMC statement is released, and expectations are for a weak reading (consensus is for 1.1% annualized growth rate in Q2).  For growth, there will probably be some change to the first sentence in the June statement:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in May suggests that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace. Labor market conditions have shown further improvement in recent months, on balance, but the unemployment rate remains elevated.
Perhaps something like the following, maybe without the "considerably" (from the August 2011 statement):
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that economic growth so far this year has been considerably slower than the Committee had expected.
A key will be to watch the comments on inflation. At the last meeting, James Bullard dissented because he "believed that the Committee should signal more strongly its willingness to defend its inflation goal in light of recent low inflation readings".  From the June meeting:
Partly reflecting transitory influences, inflation has been running below the Committee's longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Since then, it appears inflation has fallen even more.  The recent decline in inflation is probably a growing concern for some FOMC participants.

As a reminder, here are the quarterly projections from the June meeting. If Q2 is close to consensus, GDP would have to be in the 3.3% to 3.9% range in the 2nd half to reach the FOMC projections (a sharp pickup in activity):

GDP projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Change in Real GDP1201320142015
June 2013 Meeting Projections2.3 to 2.63.0 to 3.52.9 to 3.6
1 Projections of change in real GDP and in inflation are from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated.

The unemployment rate was at 7.6% in June, and the outlook for Q4 unemployment probably hasn't changed much (the July unemployment rate will be released on Friday).

Unemployment projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Unemployment Rate2201320142015
June 2013 Meeting Projections7.2 to 7.3 6.5 to 6.85.8 to 6.2
2 Projections for the unemployment rate are for the average civilian unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of the year indicated.

For inflation, PCE inflation was up 1.0% year-over-year in May, and only increased at a 0.4% annualized rate during the first five months of 2013.  This is below the FOMC projected range.

Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
PCE Inflation1201320142015
June 2013 Meeting Projections0.8 to 1.21.4 to 2.01.6 to 2.0

For core inflation, core PCE inflation was up 1.1% year-over-year in May, and only increased at a 1.1% annualized rate during the first five months of 2013.  To reach the FOMC projections, inflation will have to pickup in the 2nd half of 2013.

Core Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents
Core Inflation1201320142015
June 2013 Meeting Projections1.2 to 1.31.5 to 1.81.7 to 2.0

So a key for this statement is how the FOMC addresses the weaker incoming data.