The Two Things To Look For In Today's FOMC Minutes
There are two, also known as non-GAAP four, things to look forward to in today’s FOMC Minutes: inflation, and balance sheet, balance sheet, balance sheet.
At 2pm, the FOMC will release the minutes of the July 25-26 meeting when, as expected, the Fed left its rate unchanged and gave few surprises in its characterization of the outlook. It did surprise many, however, by noting that it expects to begin implementing balance sheet normalization “relatively soon”, language which most had not expected to be introduced until September; this, as UBS notes, is the condition the FOMC set for unwinding its balance sheet, so we now see the Fed announcing its balance sheet normalization policy in September. While there will be no earthshattering revelations, look to the Minutes to shed additional light on the Committee’s debate on this timing and views on the outlook for inflation, which will determine future rate hikes.
Going back to the July 26 statement, the FOMC’s characterization of inflation was uninformative, merely reflecting the softness in the last several prints. In the minutes, some hope to find if the language reflects strongly held views that the softness is transitory, or if there were participants that wanted to raise more alarm about the inflationary outlook, but were outnumbered. Chair Yellen has been explicit that the outlook for inflation will determine the timing of future rate hikes.
Leading up to the meeting, Fed officials were explicit that they believe that inflation weakness is transitory but that they need to see evidence that inflation is rising before hiking again. Further complicating matters, the July CPI print – the fifth miss in a row – did not provide sufficient evidence. As a result, the breadth of inflation views within the Committee should inform the sellside’s calls on the next hike.
As for the Fed’s balance sheet “normalization”, the Fed has made a distinction between announcing and implementing the balance sheet runoff. The new “relatively soon” language represents a marker that the announcement is forthcoming, according to UBS. As a result, the FOMC will likely make that announcement at the September meeting, with runoff commencing in October. The Minutes need to clarify the Committee’s communication plans and the gap between announcement and implementation.
There is more ambiguity regarding whether the Fed will again raise rates: while many still hold out hope for a third hike in December, inflation has to accelerate. Still, the Committee likely desires some time between the announcement of balance sheet runoff and its next hike. Three months should be sufficient for the Committee to assess the market reaction, but the Minutes may indicate otherwise so this too will be closely parsed for any indication of a longer pause.
Finally, two areas demand more information.
- First, how will the Fed time the unwind? The MBS market has a different cycle than the Treasury market. The Fed needs to clarify operational details around their monthly caps.
- Second, there is little information from the Fed on its long-term framework for the balance sheet, which will determine the terminal size of the balance sheet. We expect the minutes to address the operational details, but not the terminal size of the balance sheet. We expect a terminal balance sheet of $3.3 trillion reached in 2¾ years.
Not enough? Here is RanSquawk‘s detailed preview of what to expect in today’s Minutes:
FOMC’s July 2017 Meeting Minutes Preview, Due For Release At 19:00 London, 14:00 New York On Wednesday 16th August 2017
The July meeting saw the Federal Reserve leave it Federal Funds target range unchanged at 1.00-1.25%, with a 9-0 vote. Heading into the decision focus was on the rhetoric surrounding the normalisation of the FOMC’s balance sheet, and the policy statement (full version available here) noted that the Committee expects to begin shrinking its balance sheet “relatively soon.” The statement also saw the Fed highlight that it expected inflation on a “12-month basis” to remain below 2% in the near-term (which was deemed dovish), although the statement did go on to highlight that the FOMC expects inflation to stabilise around 2% over the medium term.
The language surrounding these two areas will once again garner the most attention in the upcoming release. Barclays expect the minutes of the July FOMC meeting to “provide further information regarding the timing of balance sheet normalisation and the degree of consensus within the committee.”
While HSBC believe that “the July minutes are likely to show extensive discussion about the slowdown in inflation over the past several months. Some of the policymakers likely held to the view that diminishing labour market slack should eventually put upward pressure on inflation. Others may have argued the FOMC should be cautious with respect to additional policy rate hikes unless the inflation data start to pick up.”
Since the statement various FOMC voters, namely Dudley, Kashkari, Evans and Kaplan, have indicated that they would be comfortable with an announcement regarding balance sheet normalisation being made at the September meeting, while non-voters (including Bullard) have also backed such a move.
In terms of broader policy issues, the most recent US CPI release (for July) was soft and saw CME Fed Fund futures pricing in a sub 35% chance of one further 25bps hike in 2017, with Kashkari (a noted dove) arguing that the release gave the FOMC more scope to “wait and see” before hiking rates again. This was before permanent Fed voter, Bill Dudley, suggested that “if the economy evolves in line with expectations, I would expect to be in favour of doing another rate hike later this year.” This was followed by a strong retail sales dataset (with upwards revisions), which has led to CME Fed Fund futures pricing a circa 50% chance of a 25bps hike by year end (at the time of writing).
Barclays believe that “balance sheet normalization will likely start in September and the hurdle is quite high for the FOMC to deviate from what it has been signalling so far. We will also look for more detail on how concerned the FOMC is with the incoming data on inflation. Although we think concern has risen, we do not believe there is sufficient worry yet to derail a likely December rate hike.
Source: UBS, RanSquawk