Investors this week are set to focus on the Federal Reserve’s final monetary policy decision of 2021, which may include more signaling of a monetary policy adjustment amid elevated inflation and a strengthening economic backdrop.
Members of the Federal Open Market Committee are set to hold their two-day policy-setting meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, after which they will release their monetary policy statement and hold a press conference with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. The December statement will also be accompanied by an updated Summary of Economic Projections — the first since September — outlining members’ expectations for economic conditions and interest rates over the next few years.
Many economists now expect that this month’s meeting will serve as the platform for Fed officials to increase the rate of tapering of their asset-purchase program. For more than a year-and-a-half during the pandemic, the Fed bought Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) at a clip of $120 billion per month, with this program comprising a key tool in supporting the virus-stricken economy. Last month, the Fed began winding down this program, slowing its purchases by $15 billion per month in each of November and December as the economy showed signs that it could continue to recover from the pandemic without the added monetary policy support.
“We expect the Fed to announce a doubling in the pace of tapering at the December FOMC meeting, bringing the monthly drawdown to $20 billion and $10 billion per month for Treasuries and MBS, respectively. This would conclude the tapering process in March and open up greater optionality for an earlier liftoff,” wrote Deutsche Bank economists led by Matthew Luzzetti in a note late last week.
Heading into next week’s meeting, Fed officials have already struck a more hawkish tone and suggested a near-term acceleration to tapering could be coming. Powell told Congress late last month that the central bank would discuss at the December meeting “whether it would be appropriate to wrap up our purchases a few months early,” given the backdrop of “an economy that is very strong and inflationary pressures that are very high.” Other officials have echoed these sentiments.
And in the weeks since Powell delivered those remarks, inflationary pressures have only come in hotter. The November Consumer Price Index showed a 6.8% year-over-year rise in consumer prices last month — the fastest since 1982. And other data have underscored the tightness of the present labor market, suggesting employers might need to further raise wages — and in doing so contribute further to inflationary pressures — in order to compete for talent. Weekly jobless claims came in at the lowest since 1969 last week, while job openings came in above 11 million in the U.S. for only the second time ever recorded in October.
“Strong economic growth, labor market recovery and elevated inflation has clearly moved the Fed toward an accelerated focus on shifting policy and particularly in getting quantitative easing over with,” Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income and head of the BlackRock Global Allocation Investment Team, wrote in an email Friday. “That said, the Fed will also have to balance these factors alongside potential Omicron risks, its supply and demand influences, potentially moderately slowing demand for goods and services and the possibility of rising geopolitical risks.”
Still, other pundits pointed out that the Fed will need to be cautious about not coming off so hawkish at their next meeting that it spooks the markets, which have already been on edge about risks around inflation.
“The Fed wants to jawbone this inflation a little bit lower here over the coming months,” Christopher Vecchio, DailyFX.com senior strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “They also are cognizant of the fact that raising interest rates will not unclog the ports, it will not lead to any fixed capital investment increase to fix the infrastructure problems, if you will, that have been creating these supply chain problems. And so this is a tight walk here.”
“They really have to be careful about potentially tipping markets over by appearing too hawkish at the onset,” he added. “So I do think we’re going to see strong forecasts on inflation, strong forecasts for growth. But ultimately, by the end of 2022, particularly 2023, those forecasts for inflation should be getting closer to the trend.”
One key piece of economic data out this week will be November retail sales, offering a look at the strength of the consumer in the midst of the holiday shopping season.
Consensus economists are expecting to see retail sales rise by 0.8% in November compared to October, according to Bloomberg data. This would slow compared to October’s 1.7% monthly increase, but still represent a fourth straight monthly increase.
“The gain should be supported by holiday sales with clothing showing the biggest sequential gain among major sectors,” Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer estimated in a note on Friday. “That said, we do think the risks are skewed to the downside given the sizable upside surprise in October’s sales.”
The bigger-than-expected rise in retail sales in October stemmed from strength in a variety of categories. Non-store retailers, or e-commerce platforms, posted a 4% sales increase, while gasoline station sales and electronics and appliance stores saw sales grow 3.9% and 3.8%, respectively. Some economists suggested the monthly jump likely stemmed from consumers doing their holiday shopping earlier this year to try and get ahead of supply chain disruptions and shipping delays.
Other private data on consumption for November came in strong, further suggesting another solid monthly rise in retail sales. Adobe Analytics said in an update published Nov. 30 that consumers had already spent $109.8 billion online between Nov. 1 to Nov. 29, with this figure growing 11.9%, compared to last year.
Monday: No notable reports scheduled for release
Tuesday: NFIB Small Business Optimism, November (98.4 expected, 98.2 in October); Producer Price Index (PPI), month-over-month, November (0.5% expected, 0.6% in October); PPI excluding food and energy, month-over-month, November (0.4% expected, 0.4% in October); PPI year-over-year, November (9.2% expected, 8.6% in October); PPI excluding food and energy, year-over-year, November (6.8% expected, 6.8% in October)
Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended Dec. 10 (2.0% during prior week); Retail sales excluding autos and gas, month-over-month, November (0.8% expected, 1.4% in October); Import price index, month-over-month, November (0.8% expected, 1.2% in October); Business Inventories, October (1.0% expected, 0.7% in September); NAHB Housing Market Index, December (84 expected, 83 in November); FOMC Rate Decision
Thursday: Initial jobless claims, week ended Dec. 11 (199,000 expected, 184,000 during prior week); Continuing claims, week ended Dec. 4 (1.992 million during prior week); Housing starts, month-over-month, November (3.3% expected, -0.7% in October); Building permits, month-over-month, November (0.4% expected, 4.2% in October); Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Index, December (30.0 expected, 39.0 in November); Industrial Production, month-over-month, November (0.7% expected, 1.6% in October); Capacity Utilization, November (76.8% expected, 76.4% in October); Manufacturing Production, November (0.7% expected, 1.2% in October); Markit U.S. Manufacturing PMI, December preliminary (58.5 expected, 58.3 in November); Markit U.S. Composite PMI, December preliminary (57.2 in November); Markit U.S. Services PMI, December preliminary (58.0 in November); Kansas City Federal Reserve Manufacturing Activity, December (24 in November)
Friday: No notable reports scheduled for release
Monday: No notable reports scheduled for release
Tuesday: No notable reports scheduled for release
Wednesday: Lennar (LEN) after market close
Friday: Darden Restaurants (DRI) before market open
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck