Baring calamitous February inflation and retail sales data, I expect the Fed to hike rates 25bp on 15th March for the second time in three months, in line with market pricing and my mid-February forecast.
While underlying US inflation has only edged up slowly and payroll growth remains modest, other US data have been reasonably buoyant. The pool of available labour continues to grind lower and regional indicators, national confidence surveys and housing data pushed higher in January-February.
Moreover, normally dovish FOMC members have not made a strong case for a March pause and, along with Chairperson Yellen, have seemingly for now at least not made the Fed hiking cycle conditional on Trump delivering on his promise to loosen fiscal policy.
The big question is what next for the Fed. Its updated forecasts and dot-chart and Yellen’s question-and-answer session will undoubtedly provide some extra colour.
But it may be a little premature for the 17 FOMC members to materially change their forecast for the appropriate pace of hikes for 2017, which stands at 74bps – broadly in line with current market pricing.
The risk to my turn-of-the-year forecast that the Fed may only deliver two hikes this year is probably to the upside. But if the Fed is going to hike once a quarter, it will want to prepare markets conditioned by years of hikes far more modest than predicated by the Fed.
In France, potential presidential candidates have only a week left to meet the Constitutional requirements to become an official candidate in the first round.
My core scenario remains that Fillon will remain in the presidential race, that the first and second rounds due on 23rd April and 7th May will not be pushed back, that Le Pen and Macron will likely make it to the second round run-off and that Le Pen will lose the second round whether she faces Macron or Fillon.
But one should at least entertain the possibility, even if remote, that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, currently fifth in the polls on 12%, will not meet the requirements to be a candidate in the first round – namely the written support of 500 elected sponsors – which could in turn boost support for Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon.
Moreover, it is still conceivable, albeit unlikely, that Fillon will make it to the second round or conversely pull out of the race with Alain Juppé filling his place. Finally, the possibility of this year’s elections being postponed, while extremely slim, merits discussion.