The U.S. Federal Reserve voted Wednesday to keep interest rates unchanged but the odds of a December rate hike appear to have improved.
Following its latest two-day policy meeting, the bank’s Federal Open Market Committee issued a statement that downplayed recent global financial market turmoil and said the U.S. labor market was still healing despite a slower pace of job growth.
“The committee continues to see the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced but is monitoring global economic and financial developments,” it said.
The committee also specifically pointed to a possible rate increase at its December meeting.
“In determining whether it will be appropriate to raise the target range at its next meeting, the Committee will assess progress — both realized and expected — toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation,” the statement said.
“The Fed is seriously considering a December rate hike,” Harm Bandholz, an economist at UniCredit in New York, told Reuters.
In September, the Fed used more cautious language, saying, “Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.” Going into the Fed meeting this week, the financial markets had viewed March as the most likely time for the central bank to begin its rates “liftoff.”
Michael Feroli, a former Fed economist now at JPMorgan, said the Fed statement was the first since 1999 in which policymakers pointed to a possible rate increase at the next meeting.
“By specifically referring to that meeting they are basically testing the waters a bit,” said Aneta Markowska, an economist at Societe Generale in New York. She described it as a “subtle attempt” to gently nudge the market in that direction.
James Knightley, a senior global economist at ING, said the changes to the language of the Fed statement were “small in number, but reasonably significant.”
“On the dovish side, the Fed acknowledges that ‘the pace of jobs growth has slowed’ versus being viewed as ‘solid’ in September,” he told The Guardian. “However, the rest of the statement seems to try and put the most positive spin possible.”