Yellen hints at a US interest rate rise

The dollar and Treasury yields dipped following Janet Yellen's upbeat assessment of the US economy.


Janet Yellen: not a devine being

Global stocks hit new highs early this week. The FTSE All World index, America's S&P 500 and Britain's FTSE 100 all hit all-time records, while European stocks reached a new seven-year peak. Relief over the deal with Greece, firmer Chinese data and remarks by US Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen all contributed to the bullish mood.

Yellen gave an upbeat assessment of the American economy, but also pointed out how low consumer price inflation was. The dollar and Treasury yields dipped (reflecting rising prices) after her remarks.

What the commentators said

The hawks would point to her upbeat tone on the labour market, and to her signal that the Fed will drop the word "patient" from its post-meeting policy statement when it reckons higher rates could be warranted at any time.

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Previously, the Fed said "patient" meant it would wait for at least two meetings to move. On the other hand, doves highlight the absence of strong wage growth and low inflation.

The upshot, reckoned Hamish McRae in The Independent, is an increase in the cost of money in June. "Well, maybe a bit later, but almost certainly by the autumn." Still, as so often, the Fed highlighted that it was dependent on the data in order to reduce the scope for a rise in rates to shock markets. "But when it comes to dependency on economic data, much depends on interpretation," said the FT's James Mackintosh.

A key uncertainty is whether wage growth will take off once "full employment" (meaning an unemployment rate of around 5.5%) is reached, as it has in the past. Another question is whether the unusually high numbers of part-time and discouraged workers will rejoin the labour market as the economy strengths, reducing the pressure for wage increases.

Will the Fed get it right? Investors who always wait with bated breath for central banks' latest Delphic remarks should remember that "central bankers are not divine beings with supernatural powers", said Satyajit Das on The Swiss central bank's sudden U-turn on tying the franc to the euro is just the latest reminder of their fallibility. Don't count on a trouble-free exit from the zero-interest-rate twilight zone.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.