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Fed Officials Leave Rates Unchanged, Revise Economic Outlook Downwards, and Reaffirm Commitment to Stimulus and Ultra-Low Rates

The FOMC concluded their June meeting this afternoon, announcing no changes to the short-term interest rates that the Federal Reserve uses as its primary lever to impact financial conditions; however the Fed again committed to leaving its broad and deep set of tools and facilities to continue supporting the US economy through the Covid-19 crisis and into a (hoped for) strong recovery.

Key Takeaways

  • The FOMC left short-term interest rate targets unchanged and near the zero bound and announced that the Fed will continue the current pace of asset purchases for the foreseeable future.
  • The Fed’s economic projections have been revised to call for a 6.5% contraction in US GDP this year; As expected, the Staff Economic Projections also see interest rates remaining at the zero-bound through the end of 2022.
  • While the Fed believes a full economic recovery is likely over time, Chairman Powell acknowledged the serious downside risks in the medium-term.

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee this afternoon delivered their post-meeting announcements as well as a belated update to the quarterly Staff Economic Projections: policy interest rates remain unchanged at their ultra-low level, and the FOMC’s rate of asset purchases will continue at the current pace, according to the committee’s statement. Both decisions are generally in line with expectations, and both confirm the market expectations for ultra-low rates and high flows of monetary stimulus for many months to come.

The Fed had been slowly tapering the pace of asset purchases from its height in April, but now saw they will leave the tap open until the economy starts moving measurably back towards the Fed’s mandated targets for inflation and unemployment.

Elsewhere in the statement, the FOMC reiterated warnings from April that the risks facing the US economy in the near- and medium-term remain “considerable,” despite recent activity and labor market data that has signaled the green shoots of a recovery and the lack (so far) of any catastrophic repercussions of many major US cities starting to re-open their metro areas and economies. Later, in his regular Q&A press conference, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell would point out that last week’s Jobs Report showed a promising improvement, but that “a full recovery is unlikely to occur” until the people—not just the markets—have the confidence to fully return to normal activities. Chairman Powell would go on to say that the Fed expects a full economic recovery over time, and for the meanwhile recommitted the Fed to using its tools to support the US economy in the meantime.

The quarterly Staff Economic Projections, as predicted, include a “dot plot” signaling that short-term interest rates will remain near to the zero-bound all the way through 2022 at least (the end of 2022 being the current endpoint of the Fed’s projection range.) Similarly, the Fed revised their outlook for inflation lower, projecting now that PCE inflation will still be below the targeted 2% in 2022. The Fed did not, however, revise their long-term outlook for unemployment, suggesting that the many at the central bank believe the labor market will face less of a challenge in recovering from the current crisis.

Chairman Powell’s press conference was more or less a repetition of the points made by the SEP, the committee’s prepared statement, and his committee’s and his own public comments in recent weeks; there was little in the way of additional information for markets to trade on. Still, Powell’s tone is always more strongly felt in his pressers as opposed to pre-agreed statements, and his clear perception of downside risks to what isn’t a particularly rosy outlook to begin with seem to have dented the initial momentum that equity markets were running with post-statement and pre-presser. We, like many others, were keeping an eye out for any comments on a possible “yield curve control” policy from the Fed, but Powell only tells us that the idea “remains an open question.”

Market Reaction

Gold is an easy winner post-FOMC this afternoon, with the precious metals spot price continuing to climb to and through $1730/oz at the time of writing, following a sharp jump higher when the Fed decision was released. The move to buy gold looks mostly driven by the repeated promised of ultra-low interest rates for longer, implying a very comfortable environment for investments in non-yielding gold. Silver is benefiting as well, looking to reestablish pricing above $18/oz. The initial boost that stock markets also saw suggests the acute rally in gold is more of a play for that value versus debt yields rather than a pure flight to safety.

The bounce in US stocks has mostly been blunted by the Chairman’s press conference, however. Meanwhile, yields on the 10-year have slid back to 0.75% and the Dollar has fallen sharply post-FOMC. The Greenback—gold’s main rival for safe-haven positioning in recent months—is set to finish in the red for a tenth consecutive session.