Is the March Rate Hike Really a Lock? – Ep. 338

Tomorrow is the first of the Fed’s 2-day Federal Open Market Committee Meeting, and it’s going to be the first meeting where there is supposed to be a rate hike and a press conference for the new chairman, Jerome Powell.  The markets are pretty much at 100% probability that the Fed is going to raise rates on Wednesday.  What the markets are grappling with is whether or not the Fed will raise rates 4 times this year, or only 3.

Now, if they are going to raise them 4 times, it would mean they raised rates once per quarter.  So they raise them in March, they raise them in June, they raise them in September and then they raise them again in December. Now, if they only do it 3 times, then, they pick one of these quarters where they don’t do it. Most likely, if they only do 3 hikes, the hike they’re going to skip is going to be the June hike.  And, of course, if they skip the June hike, they’re probably not going to hike in September or December, either because the economy will be much weaker by then, the U.S. stock market could be much lower.  The fact is, I’m still not 100% sure that the Fed is going to hike on Wednesday.

I would agree that it is more likely than not that the Fed is going to hike, because they’ve been hiking interest rates all along.  The Fed so far has not given any indication that they’re not going to hike because they don’t want to give up the ghost of this “vibrant recovery”, where they need to raise rates because everything is going so well. But that whole narrative, that whole illusion seems to be fading very quickly. As a matter of fact, on Friday the Atlanta Fed’s model for Q1 GDP went down another notch! They are now down to 1.8% for Q1 GDP.  Now does it sound like the Fed should be rushing to hike rates when GDP growth for Q1 is only going to be 1.8%? Does that sound like an economy that is in danger of overheating? When they were at 5.4% 6 weeks ago or so and now they’re down to 1.8% and falling? For all we know, we could end up being below 1%.

Does the Fed really want to add more downward pressure to an accelerating economy by raising interest rates?  So far, everybody just assumes that they’re going to hike rates. but we’ll see.  Another factor that may weigh on the Fed’s decision is the stock market. We still have tomorrow and Wednesday morning for the stock market to tank. Today, the tanking process already began.

At one point today, the Dow was down almost 500 points.  At its low it was down around 490.  The NASDAQ, the bigger decliner was down almost 200 points intra day.  Now the markets recouped some of those losses, so the NASDAQ only closed down 137 points; that’s still a 1.84% drop.  It’s a big drop, not nearly as big as 200.  The Dow was down 335.  It’s back in the red on the year.  The Dow was down about 100 points so far this year.  We’re only about 800 Dow points above the closing low from March.  I think we’re more like maybe 1300 Dow points above the intra-day low in the U.S. session.  But who knows? the market could tank tomorrow, we’ll see, and then, is the Fed going to hike rates with the market tanking?