March 17, 2017
Fed Hikes Rates but Retains Gradual Approach
A review of the week's top global economic and corporate news.
For the week ending 17 March 2017
Global equities rose this week after the US Federal Reserve indicated it will raise rates gradually and the populist Freedom Party fared worse than expected in Dutch elections. The US 10-year note yields fell to 2.51% from 2.58% a week ago despite this week’s hike in interest rates from the Fed. West Texas Intermediate crude prices were little changed, holding below $50 per barrel on continued high inventories. Global Brent was steady at $52. Volatility, as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), stayed about the same, at $11.20.
Fed hikes rates, expects continued gradual rise
The US Federal Reserve’s rate-setting committee pushed policy rates up a further quarter of a percent at its 15 March meeting and indicated that it expects to hike rates twice more this year. Chair Janet Yellen said that the Fed’s economic forecasts have not changed since the last rate hike in December and that the pace of future rate hikes would be gradual. Yellen also said the Fed has confidence that the economic recovery is robust and is resistant to shocks. Despite the Fed hiking rates at two of its last three meetings, financial conditions are easier today than they were on the day of the Fed’s December hike: Equity prices are higher, the 10-year US Treasury note yield is lower, the dollar is weaker and corporate bond spreads are narrower.
BOJ and BOE stand pat; China raises short-term rates
While the Bank of Japan is not in a position to hike rates anytime soon, the Bank of England might be closer to a hike than markets expected. One member of the Monetary Policy Committee, Kristin Forbes, voted to hike rates by 0.25% on Thursday, and several other members indicated they would consider voting to hike rates if activity or inflation picks up further. With Brexit looming, the BOE finds itself in a policy bind given the potential for economic and market volatility because the process is unfolding at a time when inflation pressures appear to be rebounding. In the wake of the Fed’s hike, the People’s Bank of China raised its reverse repo rate 10 basis points in an effort to keep the USD/CNY exchange rate stable and limit capital outflows. Thursday’s hike was the second this year. However, China’s official monetary policy benchmark deposit rate remains unchanged. While policy rates outside the United States are unlikely to rise dramatically anytime soon, the trend toward additional accommodation appears to be coming to an end.
UK parliament passes Brexit bill
After several weeks of legislative wrangling, the UK parliament this week passed the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill and the queen has given Royal Assent, clearing the way for the government to begin negotiations to leave the EU. The two-year process is expected to be triggered by the end of this month.
Dutch populist party underperforms expectations
Support for Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party faded in the final days of the Dutch general election campaign with his party finishing a distant second to the Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Wilders had led in the polls for several months, but his party secured just 20 seats in the Dutch parliament versus 33 for Rutte’s party. Rutte will now need to forge a coalition with several other parties, a process which is expected to be lengthy, as Rutte has ruled out including the Freedom Party in any coalition. In addition to eyeing the performance of populist factions, observers monitoring the electoral performance of populist factions report increasing political fragmentation in Europe. For example, the Netherlands now has 13 parties claiming seats in parliament, with the leading party garnering only 21% of the vote.
G20 finance ministers meet
US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is set to meet with his G20 counterparts for the first time this weekend in Germany. Trade and currency issues will no doubt be at the top of the agenda. Mnuchin met with German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Thursday, with Mnuchin vowing to avoid trade wars while seeking to secure reciprocal trading arrangements.
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Sources: MFS research; The Wall Street Journal; The Wall Street Journal Online; Bloomberg News;Financial Times; Forbes.com; CNNMoney.com; NBCNews.com.
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