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As expected, the Federal Reserve has not changed its interest rate director at this day's meeting. However, some changes were made to the wording of the statement to clarify the thinking of the officials. (The Wall Street Journal has usefully tracked all the changes since March.)
Equally interesting is what has not changed. In both cases, the interesting language concerns inflation.
Inflation has been slower than the long-term goal of 2% annual growth in the consumer price index (PCE) excluding energy and energy almost since the Fed announced its goal in January 2012. Each time it seemed that inflation was accelerating to 2%, it eventually slowed down. The most striking example was last year, when core inflation declined from 1.9% in February to only 1.3% in August.
A sharp rise in March (which could still be revised) has reduced the core inflation rate to 1.9%. The Fed acknowledged in its latest release, noting that "global inflation and inflation of non-food and energy products grew by nearly 2% ". Previously, the line was as follows: "The overall inflation and inflation for products other than food and energy continued to be less than 2 percent."
This moderate acceleration of inflation was long overdue and built into the Fed's earlier guidance on the key rate range, which is why the Fed has been so optimistic about this. Just to reinforce this point, the Fed has added the word "symmetric" to the description of its inflation target. The idea is that the Fed is willing to withstand temporary periods when prices can rise faster than 2%, just as it was willing to withstand periods when prices rose more slowly than its long-term goal.
The surprising element of the statement is what the Fed had left in its previous meetings: "Market-based inflation compensation measures remain weak". It's hard to justify. The most common measure is the breakeven of inflation between US Treasuries and their inflation-linked equivalents five years into the future. This figure is at its highest level in years and is broadly in line with an inflation target of 2%.
Another measure is the five-year median inflation rate implied by option prices. This too has reached its highest level in a long time and is generally compatible with a price increase of 2% per year. In addition, the implied probability that inflation averages 3% or more over the next five years is at levels comparable to those in which the Fed felt good in the world in 2013-14.
Regardless of the reason given in the last statement about market-based measures, this is likely to reinforce the view of traders that the Fed will be cautious about a rate hike too fast.
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