EUR/USD

Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate increases ahead, even as they raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the rate-hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the interest-rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question facing U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as robust U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create jobs?

"We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent," Richard Clarida, the Fed's newly appointed vice chair, said. "I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed's projection of where it's going, that being at neutral would make sense," he added, defining "neutral" as the policy rate somewhere between 2.5% and 3.5%.

Such a range implies anywhere from two to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring tighter policy. But he also sounded a mild warning.

"There is some evidence of global slowing," Clarida said. "That's something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like."

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

"It's my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States," Kaplan said.

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25% to 2.5%. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed's policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed's current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76% over six trading days.

Philadelphia Fed chief Patrick Harker also sounded a skeptical note. "At this point I'm not convinced a December rate move is the right move," he was quoted as saying, citing muted inflation readings.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by "big boys and girls" who understand the risks.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday also cited slowing global growth as a headwind to the U.S. economy.

He said reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25% so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7%, back up to a more sustainable level. Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet. But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

The European Central Bank still plans to dial back stimulus at the end of the year, but inflation may rise more slowly than earlier expected, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Friday.

The euro zone economy has slowed in recent months amid weaker demand from China, higher interest rates for dollar borrowers across the world and jittery bond markets in Italy, where the new government wants to increase spending.

Draghi saw "no reason" to expect the euro zone's economy to stop expanding and drag down price growth with it. But he warned of increased uncertainty around the outlook. "If firms start to become more uncertain about the growth and inflation outlook, the squeeze on margins could prove more persistent," Draghi told a banking conference. "This would affect the speed with which underlying inflation picks up and therefore the inflation path that we expect to see in the quarters ahead," he added. "Uncertainties surrounding the medium-term outlook have increased."

The ECB still saw risks to the growth outlook as broadly balanced, Draghi said, but it would reassess the situation in December, when new growth and inflation forecasts become available. The central bank plans to wind down its 2.6 trillion-euro bond-buying programme at the end of this year and has guided investors to expect the first interest rate hike since 2011 sometime late next year. Draghi stuck to those plans in his speech, but he cautioned that an undue rise in euro zone borrowing costs would change the path for interest rates, hinting at a spillover from the United States or ripple effects from Italy as possible reasons.

"If financial or liquidity conditions should tighten unduly or if the inflation outlook should deteriorate, our reaction function is well defined," Draghi said. "This should in turn be reflected in an adjustment in the expected path of future interest rates."

Draghi, himself an Italian, did not mention Italy in his speech. But he warned about the risk of a widening in sovereign yield spreads, a measure of investor confidence in a country's public finances. "Lack of fiscal consolidation in high-debt countries increases their vulnerability to shocks, whether those shocks are autonomously produced by questioning the rules of the euro zone's architecture, or are imported through financial contagion," he said. "So far, the rise in sovereign spreads has been mostly restricted to the first case and contagion across countries has been limited," he said.

U.S. retail sales rebounded sharply in October as purchases of motor vehicles and building materials surged, but data for the prior two months was revised lower and the underlying trend suggested that consumer spending was probably slowing down.

Still, the report on Thursday from the Commerce Department showed broad gains in sales ahead of the holiday shopping season, which bodes well for consumer spending and the overall economy as the fourth quarter gets under way.

Retail sales increased 0.8% last month. Retail sales in September slipped 0.1% instead of rising 0.1% and sales in August were also weaker than previously thought.

The market had forecast retail sales increasing 0.5% in October. Sales rose 4.6% from a year ago.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales increased 0.3% last month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Data for September was revised lower to show core retail sales rising 0.3% instead of gaining 0.5% as previously reported. Core retail sales fell 0.2% in August rather than being unchanged.

Strong domestic demand and a tightening labor market support views that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates in December for the fourth time this year. The U.S. central bank last Thursday kept rates unchanged, but said data "indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a strong rate."

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