For the first time in nine years, the U.S. Federal Reserve hiked their key policy rate–the overnight federal funds rate–by one-quarter percentage point (25 basis points) to a range of 1/4 to 1/2 percent. The policy-making Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said that the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in the labor market and a return to 2 percent inflation.
The U.S. labor market has improved considerably this year taking the unemployment rate down to 5%, while inflation has been depressed by falling commodity prices and the strength in the U.S. dollar.
Importantly, the Fed suggests that they expect economic conditions to warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate and that the funds rate will remain below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run for some time. Having said this, the Committee’s interest rate forecasts signaled four quarter-point increases in 2016, a stance that has been interpreted by the markets as relatively hawkish. This, of course, will be data dependent, and many economists expect fewer than four rate hikes next year.
The Canadian dollar, which has weakened sharply in recent weeks on further declines in oil prices, edged downward with the release of the Fed decision, but bounced back shortly thereafter. U.S. Treasuries tumbled on the news pushing market rates higher. U.S. stocks, on the other hand, extended today’s gains and the yield on two-year Treasury notes topped 1 percent for the first time in five years after the Fed ended seven years of near-zero interest rates and reaffirmed gradual tightening over the next year. The yield on the ten-year Treasury bond edged up slightly to 2.29 percent.
Bank of Canada Will Remain On the Sidelines
The Canadian economy has been hard hit by the continuing decline in oil prices and other commodity prices. Not only has West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the price received in the U.S., fallen to roughly $36 a barrel, but the price received in Canada for heavy oil is substantially lower.
Economists expect that Governor Poloz will keep his benchmark overnight rate at 0.5 percent unchanged until at least 2017. Nevertheless, mortgage rates in Canada have likely bottomed as five-year market rates, to which mortgage rates are linked, are edging higher and lenders are pressured by very narrow interest rate spreads.