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What to Watch in This Week’s Federal Reserve Meeting

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Apr 29, 2019 at 2:02PM

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Here’s what you need to know about the next FOMC meeting and the potential for a change in interest rates.

The Federal Reserve's policy-making Federal Open Markets Committee, or FOMC, is set to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. This will be FOMC's third meeting of 2019, and although no interest rate movements are expected, investors will still be watching the outcome of this meeting closely to see if the Fed still plans to be patient when it comes to further interest rate changes.

With that in mind, here's a rundown of what to watch for when the FOMC releases its much-anticipated statement about the policy meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Various interest rates on squares of paper.

Image source: Getty Images.

Don't expect any interest rate movements

As previously mentioned, an interest rate change is unlikely. For one thing, at the conclusion of the Federal Reserve's March meeting, we learned that the committee anticipates keeping interest rates steady for the rest of 2019.

In addition, it's important for investors to realize that while the FOMC can technically decide to raise interest rates at any of its eight meetings throughout the year, rate movements generally only take place at the four meetings at which the committee also releases its latest economic projections. These occur in March, June, September, and December.

Having said all of that, while the chance of an interest rate movement isn't high, it isn't zero either. As of Monday morning, futures markets are pricing in a 98% probability that the FOMC will keep rates the same, with a 2% probability of a 25-basis-point rate cut.

Recent economic data and what it means

Last week's GDP report showed a 3.2% annual growth rate in the first quarter that was significantly stronger than analysts expected. So you might think that the Fed could rethink its projection of no interest rate hikes in 2019.

On the other hand, recent inflation data has been significantly slower than the Fed's 2% target. The personal consumption expenditures price index (PCE) showed inflation of just 0.6%, with core inflation of 1.3%.

The point is that economic data has been a mixed bag lately. This is consistent with what the FOMC said in its most recent statement, as well as the wait-and-see approach to interest rates that the committee revealed in its March dot plot.

The bottom line: Don't expect anything too exciting

At the conclusion of its last meeting in March, the FOMC showed a major shift in its monetary policy. The expectation changed rather dramatically from two expected rate hikes in 2019, according to the Fed's December 2018 projections, to zero. The Fed showed fewer anticipated rate hikes in its longer-term outlook as well.

In a nutshell, the FOMC just changed its monetary policy to a more patient approach. The committee has said that it will base future interest rate adjustments on economic data, such as labor market conditions, inflation, and other economic conditions. Most economic indicators (like GDP growth) have been strong, but inflation data has been weak, so the factors the Fed would use to modify policy have been something of a mixed bag. While the Fed certainly has surprised investors before, recent economic data suggests there's no reason to think the FOMC will alter its new approach significantly at this week's meeting.

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