Fed Could Weigh Historic 100 Basis-Point Hike After Inflation Scorcher

(Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve officials may debate a historic one percentage-point rate hike later this month after another searing inflation report, which cemented odds of at least a 75 basis-point move and boosted expectations for a similar increase in September.

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Investors upped bets the central bank could raise rates by 100 basis points at its July 26-27 meeting, which would be the largest increase since the Fed started directly using overnight interest rates to conduct monetary policy in the early 1990s. Futures priced roughly a one-in-two chance of such a hike after consumer prices rose a hotter-than-forecast 9.1% in the year through June.

“I think they have time, if they want, to change that expectation to 100. I don’t think they’ve given us a great reason why they should be going slow here, or being gradual,” said Michael Feroli, chief US economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“If you do in fact get 100 in July and 75 in September, then I think the growth outlook for later in the year probably deteriorates. Right now I’m inclined to think that the main impact might be to motivate more front loading by the Fed,” he said.

Given the acceleration in monthly inflation, economists at Nomura Securities International now expect a full percentage-point increase in the Fed’s benchmark rate at the upcoming policy meeting.

“Incoming data suggests the Fed’s inflation problem has worsened, and we expect policy makers to react by scaling up the pace of rate hikes to reinforce their credibility,” Nomura’s Aichi Amemiya, Robert Dent and Jacob Meyer, said in a note.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters last month after the central bank raised rates by 75 basis points, to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%, that either a 50 or 75 basis-point increase was likely in July. A majority of his colleagues since then have either echoed his line or endorsed the bigger move.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester will be interviewed on Bloomberg Television on Wednesday evening. Fed Governor Christopher Waller is scheduled to speak on Thursday, while Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic and his St. Louis colleague James Bullard both have events on Friday. After that officials enter their pre-meeting blackout period.

Central banks globally are confronting unprecedented inflation, prompting historic rate hikes from Hungary to Pakistan. The Bank of Canada on Wednesday increased rates by a surprise full percentage point amid fears that decades-high price pressures are becoming entrenched.

What Bloomberg Economics Says…

“The Fed is right to worry about the unmooring of inflation expectations — and this report raises the chance of an even larger rate hike than 75 basis points down the line.”

— Anna Wong and Andrew Husby (economists)

For the full note, click here

Brett Ryan, senior US economist at Deutsche Bank AG, said it made sense to price in some risk of a larger Fed move, but saw it as unlikely without explicit communication from the central bank.

“The hawks had to have agreed to the guidance of 50 to 75, with the understanding that if we got an upside print, 75 would be the number,” he said. “They have time to communicate if they want to put that message out there.”

The US central bank has pivoted to aggressive policy tightening to confront the highest inflation in 40 years, which critics say was egged on by policy makers’ slow initial response. They raised rates by 75 basis points last month — the largest increase since 1994 — despite previously signaling that they were on track for a smaller half-point move.

“You have to put 100 on the table for July,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, Citigroup chief US cconomist. “Everybody should be quite cautious about calling peak inflation, a few months ago the peak was supposed to be 8.3%.”

Fed officials have said they want to push policy into restrictive territory, to a range of 3.25 to 3.5% by the end of this year, according to the median projection from the quarterly economic projections released in June. Futures markets Wednesday showed investors pricing in an even higher 3.5% to 3.75% range by year end.

Economists warn that such a fast pace of large increases could push the US into recession. A handful of banks are calling for a contraction starting this year, while others see it starting next year.

“The more aggressive the Fed gets, it’s a question of what kind of recession we are going to get,” said Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBC Capital Markets. “It’s really easy to make the case that the Fed is going to be just as spooked by this number as they were the last — that’s the right way to think about it.”

The Fed’s abrupt change to a 75 basis-point increase last month came on the back of a preliminary survey showing consumer expectations for future inflation were rising.

Subsequent updates to the data, which came after the Fed’s meeting, erased most of that uptick, but preliminary July figures, expected Friday, may provide policy makers with more ammunition to super-size this month’s hike.

Inflation expectations are particularly concerning to Powell and his colleagues, who are trying to avoid a 1970s-style price spiral.

“After what happened in June, I do not rule anything out,’ said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. “I had been thinking that the Fed would decelerate to a 50-basis-point-per-meeting pace beginning in September, but if the next two monthly inflation numbers look like May’s and June’s, all bets are off.”

(Updates with more analyst reaction.)

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