Yesterday, the minutes of the FOMC December meeting were released. What do they say about the Fed’s stance and what do they mean for the gold market?
Fed Divided on Number of Hikes in 2018
At the December meeting, the U.S. central bank increased the federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range 1.25-1.50%. The move was widely expected by investors, but there was no unanimity at the meeting as two FOMC members dissented. The Fed officials were also divided over the forecast of three rate hikes in 2018. The hawks noted that more hikes would be appropriate as financial conditions had not tightened since the Fed started raising rates at the end of 2015. On the other hand, the doves pointed out that too aggressive hiking might prevent a sustained return of inflation:
A few participants indicated that they were not comfortable with the degree of additional policy tightening through the end of 2018 implied by the median projections for the federal funds rate in the December SEP. They expressed concern that such a path of increases in the policy rate, while gradual, might prove inconsistent with a sustained return of inflation to 2 percent, or that the level of the federal funds rate might already be near its current neutral value. A few other participants mentioned that they saw as appropriate a pace of additional policy tightening through the end of 2018 that was somewhat faster than that implied by the December SEP median forecast. They noted that financial conditions had not materially tightened since the removal of monetary policy accommodation began, that continued low interest rates risked financial instability in the future, or that the labor market was increasingly tight.
However, the division will soften in 2018. The Committee will be more hawkish in 2018. Why? The biggest doves who dissented at the last meeting, Neel Kashari and Charles Evans, are not voting members in 2018. What does it mean? The risks to the forecast of three rate hikes are not balanced, but biased upwards. Currently, investors accept the forecast, with the market odds of a March hike at about 68 percent. If the expectations turn to be more hawkish over the year, gold may be under pressure. You have been warned.