With March seen as all but a done deal by markets for the Federal Reserve’s next rate rise, the debate among investors has moved on to the pace of the tightening for the rest of the year.
Odds that the US central bank will overshoot its own projections set last year — when policymakers forecast three rate rises in 2017 — with four rate increases eclipsed 25 per cent on Friday, according to calculations on federal funds futures by Bloomberg.
That is the highest level since at least July and lifts the probability of three or more 25 basis point rate rises this year to 61 per cent, up from 54 per cent at the start of the week. A survey of economists conducted by the Financial Times at the end of last week showed the vast majority projecting three quarter point rises in 2017, including one when policymakers meet next week.
Investors said they were scrutinising wage data in the latest jobs report, which showed a 0.2 per cent month-on-month increase in February, below the 0.3 per cent consensus. Portfolio managers have been watching for signs of faster wage growth, which they expect could feed higher inflation and prompt a more hawkish Fed.
Friday’s report also showed an uptick in the labour force participation rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 63 per cent, the highest level in 11 months.
“As far as the Fed is concerned, the raft of data of late, and the communications coming from key Fed officials…fully support a rate hike next week,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist with BMO Capital Markets.