Markets vs. Economists: Who's Right on Fed Interest-Rate Timing?

Is It a Mistake for the Fed to Raise Rates?
  • Fed funds futures indicate 2016 liftoff, economists see Dec.
  • Officials speaking Monday mostly expected liftoff this year

Will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates by the end of the year? You get a very different answer depending on the source.

Eighty-four percent of economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect an initial interest-rate increase in December, according to a survey conducted Sept. 25-28. That contrasts with the signal federal funds futures are sending: Pricing suggests that investors see a roughly 40 percent probability of a rate rise by year end, based on an assumption that the effective funds rate will trade at the 0.375 percent mid-point of the target range following Fed liftoff.

The economists’ view falls in line with Fed officials, three of whom have signaled within the past week that liftoff is looming. Markets are more questioning. In the past, policy makers have voiced concern about surprising the bond market with their decision. Even so, the current discrepancy didn’t bother New York Fed President William C. Dudley.

“It’s not for me to say what the market expectation should be,” he told a Wall Street Journal event Monday in New York, acknowledging that the Fed and economists have been consistently overly optimistic on growth and rates in recent years. “It could be that the market view is, that, yes, we hear you that you expect to raise interest rates this year, but we think that the data is going to evolve in a way that’s going to cause you to change your mind.”

Chair Janet Yellen said last week that she still thinks liftoff from near zero is likely this year if the economy develops as projected, and both Dudley and San Francisco Fed President John Williams echoed that expectation in separate speeches Monday. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who favors delaying until 2016, indicated that he still sees room for patience before lifting rates, in remarks also made on Monday.

The economist survey shows that most forecasters who called for a rate increase in September pushed back to December, rather than moving their projection into October or 2016. A pre-FOMC meeting survey of economists earlier this month showed 56 percent expecting September, 14 percent October and 25 percent December. Just 5 percent saw a 2016 liftoff.

In the most recent survey, fewer than 10 percent look for a rate increase next month, and only about 7 percent expect the Fed to wait until next year.

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