Fed on the ropes but not down

The US Federal Reserve and markets have been engaged in a bruising duel for the past six months. Round 6 should have been an easy one for the Fed given reasonably well behaved equity and FX markets, surging energy prices and signs that global GDP growth was stabilising.

But softer US employment data for May have put the Fed on the ropes, with markets having now all but priced out a hike next week and only pricing in a 24% probability of a hike on 27th July.

The Fed is not down, however, thanks to decent earnings, income and spending, a pick-up in most inflation measures in April and a robust housing market, which all point to a rebound in GDP growth in Q2.

In the labour market, an increasingly high percentage of those who want a job are finding one and the steady share of full-time employees points to decent hourly earnings growth in months ahead. There is still slack but arguably less than in December when the Fed hiked.

The Fed will be hoping that the next data set, particularly for the labour market, manufacturing and inflation, will go its way so that it can finally deliver a second-hike in a decade at its July meeting.

This is still my core scenario, although if labour data for June disappoint the Fed may well turn to its 21st September meeting as its next possible trigger point.

A July or September hike would leave the Fed with another few rounds to hike its policy rate by another 25bps, in line with Fed members’ current average forecast of two hikes in 2016. The Fed will want to show markets that it will not be swayed by soft data punches or temporary market developments and is still in control, but without flooring markets.

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