Fed Cites Weather, 'Transitory' Factors in FOMC Statement; No Hat Tricks; What About Consumer Sentiment?
Don't worry. The First Quarter GDP Disaster, released this morning is transitory.
How do I know? The Fed says so.
Here is the FOMC Statement from today. Emphasis mine.
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March suggests that economic growth slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting transitory factors. The pace of job gains moderated, and the unemployment rate remained steady. A range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources was little changed. Growth in household spending declined; households' real incomes rose strongly, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices, and consumer sentiment remains high. Business fixed investment softened, the recovery in the housing sector remained slow, and exports declined. Inflation continued to run below the Committee's longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and decreasing prices of non-energy imports. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. Although growth in output and employment slowed during the first quarter, the Committee continues to expect that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, with labor market indicators continuing to move toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee continues to see the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced. Inflation is anticipated to remain near its recent low level in the near term, but the Committee expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2 percent over the medium term as the labor market improves further and the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate. The Committee continues to monitor inflation developments closely.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.
The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Charles L. Evans; Stanley Fischer; Jeffrey M. Lacker; Dennis P. Lockhart; Jerome H. Powell; Daniel K. Tarullo; and John C. Williams.
No Hat Trick of Dissent
There were no dissents. My, how things change. At the December meeting there was a Rare Hat Trick of Dissent
But this time, the rationale for opposition changed. Dallas Fed leader Richard Fisher cast a no vote because he believes economic data suggests rate rises will need to come sooner than his colleagues currently expect. Philadelphia Fed chief Charles Plosser remains uncomfortable with language in the Fed statement that suggests the outlook for rate increases is to some degree driven by a calendar date, rather than by the economy's performance.
Meanwhile, Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Fed continues to believe it's a mistake for the Fed to contemplate interest rate increases at a time when inflation is falling so far short of the central bank's official 2% goal.
The breadth of the dissent ties up neatly with the challenging outlook for the monetary policy. The Fed has been greeted with an extended run of solid growth and hiring data that it broadly expects it to continue. At the same time, inflation remains persistently below the 2% price target central bankers say they will defend from both the high and low side. Put another way, one side of the outlook favors rate increases, while the other argues for sticking to an ultra-easy money stance.
If the Fed is unanimous, they all have to be right.
Consumer Sentiment Plunges
And what about that high consumer sentiment?
I am glad you asked, because the consumer confidence report came out yesterday and based on the FOMC statement today that " consumer sentiment remains high", it appears the Fed was not even watching.
The Bloomberg Consensus estimate for consumer confidence was 103. The range was 100.5 to 104. he actual index plunged to 95.2 from 101.3.
Consumer confidence has fallen back noticeably this month, down more than 6 points to a much lower-than-expected 95.2. This compares very poorly with the Econoday consensus for 103.0 and is even far below the Econoday low estimate of 100.5. The weakness, ominously, is the result of falling assessments of the jobs market, both the current jobs market and expectations for the future jobs market. The second quarter, which is expected to be much stronger than the weather-depressed first quarter, isn't likely to get off to a fast start, at least as far as this report goes.
The most striking weakness in April is the assessment of future conditions with the expectations component down 8.5 points to 87.5 for the weakest reading going all the way back to September. And the most striking weakness among the sub-components is employment, where fewer see more jobs opening up 6 months from now and more see fewer jobs available. This spills over into income where fewer see an increase ahead and more see a decrease.
But also weak is the present situation component which is down more than 2-1/2 points to 106.8 for its weakest reading since December. Here the most closely watched sub-component is the jobs-hard-to-get reading which is up nearly 1 full percentage point to 26.4 percent. This reading will hold back expectations at least to some degree for a big bounce back in the April employment report from a very weak March.
Inflation expectations are down sharply this month, 4 tenths lower to 4.8 percent which is one of the lowest readings of the recovery. Gas prices have been edging higher but are still low, the latter no doubt a major factor behind the latest reading.
Buying plans are mixed with automobile and vacation plans down but not home plans which are up. But home buying won't be a featured activity for consumers if their expectations for employment are weak. Today's report, showing weakness in the jobs assessment and in inflation expectations, won't be pulling forward expectations for the Federal Reserve's first rate hike.
Well, who cares if the Fed is watching consumer sentiment or not? Confidence is meaningless because weakness is unanimously transitory.
By the way, there were Only 560 Words In Today's FOMC Statement, Fewest Since October 2012, yet they could not even get the statement correct.