Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Economists Have Moved Back Their Fed Rate Hike Guesses in Droves

Team June is becoming a very lonely camp

Most economists now expect the Federal Reserve's first rate hike in almost a decade to come at its late-summer meeting, in a ballroom-worthy swing from their outlook last month.

The share of economists projecting the Fed will wait until September more than doubled to 71 percent in the latest Bloomberg survey, from 32 percent last month. Team June shrank to 12 percent from 45 percent in March. The camp calling for a July rate hike fell to 5 percent from 12 percent. 

The shift in economists' expectations probably will color commentary by four members of the Federal Open Market Committee today. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer is scheduled to address the International Monetary Fund's meeting, while the chiefs of the Fed banks of Atlanta, Cleveland and Boston also have speeches on the agenda.

A spate of disappointing data between the two surveys showed the U.S. economy stalled a bit in the first three months of this year as a harsh winter slammed consumer spending and manufacturing. Payrolls increased by a measly 126,000 in March, falling below 200,000 for the first time in more than a year, and the Institute for Supply Management's index showed factories last month expanded at the slowest pace since 2013. Economists now see the economy growing at a 1.4 percent annualized pace in the first quarter, compared to a forecast of 2.2 percent in the March survey. 

The Fed, too, lowered its expectations this year. The economy probably will grow between 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent in 2015, the policy makers reported at the conclusion of their March 17-18 gathering. That's down from as much as 3 percent in their December estimates. 

The combination of weaker data and the Fed's analysis of those figures at their latest meeting helped prompt a move by Wells Fargo Securities to change their rate-hike projection to September from June, said Sarah House, an economist on the team in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"What we got from that meeting confirmed a lot of people's leanings," said House. "The fundamentals are still good, but we just don't think you're going to be able to get confirmation on that in time for the June meeting," she said.

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