Powell Takes Charge

In his first meeting as Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell and company delivered what almost everyone had been expecting, a 25 basis point hike in the federal funds rate, and raised expectations for economic activity in the months and years ahead. While the hike (which we expect is the first of four in 2018) needs little more than passing mention given its essentially shoe-in status heading in to today's meeting, the Fed Statement and projection materials warrant closer inspection.

Start with the statement, where the Fed upgraded the outlook on jobs growth to "strong" from "solid", while continuing to note that the unemployment rate remains low. And while they made a point to note a moderation in growth in household spending and business fixed investment from their fourth-quarter readings, they added new language noting that the economic outlook has strengthened in recent months. This pickup in activity is likely due in large part to the passage of tax reform in late December that the FOMC has now had time to digest and work into their outlook.

On the inflation front, the Fed took a more hawkish tone, changing their expectations for inflation to move to the Fed's 2% objective "in coming months", up from "this year" as was used in the January statement. With inflation closing in on the Fed's target and unemployment already low, the summary of economic projections released today provide more guidance on how the Fed expects both economic growth and monetary policy to develop in the years ahead.

The Fed raised the outlook for GDP growth to 2.7% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019, up from 2.5% and 2.1%, respectively, in their December projections. At the same time, they lowered the projected year-end level for the unemployment rate in the comings years and moderately raised their inflation outlook.

What is most notable from the projections is that the Fed expects both inflation and the Federal Funds rate to overshoot the long-term targets in 2020, with inflation forecast to exceed the 2% objective at 2.1%, while the federal funds rate is forecast at 3.4%, a full 50 basis points above the 2.9% that the Fed believes appropriate over the long term.