NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve held interest rates steady on Wednesday but said it would be patient in lifting borrowing costs further this year as it pointed to rising uncertainty about the U.S. economic outlook.
While the Fed said continued U.S. economic and job growth were still “the most likely outcomes,” it removed language from its December policy statement that risks to the outlook were “roughly balanced” and struck language that projected “some further” rate hikes would be appropriate in 2019.
In a separate release from its policy statement, the U.S. central bank also said while it was continuing its monthly balance sheet reduction, it was prepared to alter the pace “in light of economic and financial developments” in the future.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a press conference after the statement was released that policy makers decided a wait and see approach was appropriate and that the case for raising rates has weakened.
STOCKS: The S&P 500 added to gains and was last up 1.65 percent. The Dow also rose more and was up 1.85 percent. BONDS: The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield fell to 2.6936 percent and the 2-year yield fell to 2.5262 percent.
FOREX: The dollar index slipped into negative territory and was off about 0.5 percent.
CHUCK CARLSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HORIZON INVESTMENT SERVICES, HAMMOND, INDIANA
“It seems like it’s what the market was expecting although it looks like it shot higher on the news. That’s been part of this rally, a growing feeling that (the Fed) would be letting the data play out instead of having a fixed number in mind in terms of what they were going to do.
“This earnings season, in terms of the guidance companies have given, has probably given them enough pause in a sense of seeing how the economy unfolds. Guidance has been tempered, muted. The prevailing opinion is that GDP growth is going to slow in 2019 and layered on top of that are China issues and Europe issues and how that’s going to impact US firms and our economy. So they’re doing what would be expected in an environment of more uncertainty than we had last year.
“They don’t want to put themselves in a box and this language does that. Maybe they’re softening on the idea that there’s going to be two (rate hikes) this year, maybe it’s going to be one. My guess is the probability that there will be two rate hikes in 2019 has gone down a hair based on this report.”
JAMES MCCANN, SENIOR ECONOMIST, ABERDEEN STANDARD INVESTMENTS, BOSTON
“The press statement was reassuringly dovish, but it wasn’t hugely unexpected. The place where there was more surprise, which has come into (stock) prices, is that we got a shift, it seems, around the balance sheet. We’ll see how Powell talks to this in practice. The language was very, very vague, and probably deliberately so. But the preparedness for the Fed to be more accommodative around the balance sheet seems to be a little new.”
MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER, ALLIANZ, NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.
“The markets got what they were hoping for in the Fed’s written statement, including both the notion of the central bank’s patience on future rate hikes and greater flexibility in its approach to reducing its balance sheet. This marks a full 180 from what the Fed was signaling just a few months ago.”
“Clearly the Fed has been listening to the market. But that was already known with comments from Powell running up to this FOMC meeting. This is a much softer, patient approach, certainly fueling equities to look fairly positive.
“Overall, this is something the market wanted to see, is pleased with. I don’t think it takes us away on longer-term inflation goals at this point.
“I am sure there will be some political commentators that will be looking to read this as Powell giving in to Trump and his demands that the Fed do more, but I don’t think that is accurate at this point.
“I think inflationary pressures are a little bit more muted, in particular with what we have seen happening with oil prices. I think this is a just right kind of an announcement.
LARRY HATHEWAY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, GAM INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT, ZURICH
“The Fed has moderated their assessment of economic activity, dropping the language of strong to a solid expansion. It’s a modest downgrade, but overall they are certainly keeping their options open. They’re trying to convey the message while they have paused, their options are open and more likely than not, they’ll probably hike rates this year rather than keep them on hold. It’s more probable they’ll hike two rather than one this year.”
CHAD OVIATT, DIRECTOR OF INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT, HUNTINGTON NATIONAL BANK, COLUMBUS, OHIO
“Some of the language changes are interesting. It’s increasing the amount of flexibility that the Fed is giving itself for the rest of the year...That seems reasonable given what’s going on from a global perspective...I think (stocks) are rallying because it was a little more dovish than I think consensus was expecting.”
JOHN CANAVAN, MARKET STRATEGIST, STONE & MCCARTHY RESEARCH ASSOCIATES, NEW YORK
“Generally, the Fed statement and the comments about the balance sheet are viewed as a dovish combination. The front end of the Treasury yield curve is rallying and the back end is selling off. Some dovishness has been priced in so it’s difficult to be more dovish. The balance sheet comments is the Fed acknowledging that the balance sheet drawdown is having more of a market impact than they had thought. Now they are ready to make some adjustments. We will probably get more clarity from Powell’s press conference about balance sheet changes. The economic growth here will still be strong for a couple of rate hikes this year, but unlikely in the first quarter.”
SCOTT MINERD, GLOBAL CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER, GUGGENHEIM PARTNERS, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA (by email):
“Fed makes it clear that any rate changes are on hold until further notice. Monetary Policy remains highly accommodative with Fed shifting to ‘dovish’ tone. The pause confirms our view that this will further extend the expansion, allowing excesses to continue to build and increasing risks of financial instability. Fed refilled the punch bowl and the party goes on. Buy risk assets.”
JASON WARE, CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER, ALBION FINANCIAL GROUP, SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
“What the statement suggests in terms of removing specific language - like further gradual rate hikes was taken out - they seem to be, for lack of a better term, capitulating to the market at this point ... we are paying attention to the volatility, we are paying attention the downside risks more than the upside risks. And the upside risks as far as Jay Powell is concerned are economic growth and higher inflation. That seems to be a lower priority on the committee’s mind and they are now a little bit more willing to be a little more ‘patient’ and data dependent, which is what the market wants to hear. So here we go, yields down, stocks up.”
JUSTIN LEDERER, TREASURY ANALYST, CANTOR FITZGERALD, NEW YORK
“The statement was definitely dovish. In response, we’ve seen the Treasury curve steepen with two-year prices bid up.
“We’re not overly surprised by the statement, given Powell’s rhetoric since the last policy meeting. The balance sheet remarks were also in line with that sentiment.
“Overall, this signals the Fed will not be on autopilot going forward.”
Americas Economics and Markets Desk