The FOMC finally raised interest rates and signaled six more hikes this year. Despite the very hawkish dot plot, gold went up in initial reaction.
There has been no breakthrough in Ukraine. Russian invasion has largely stalled on almost all fronts, so the troops are focusing on attacking civilian infrastructure. However, according to some reports, there is a slow but gradual advance in the south. Hence, although Russia is not likely to conquer Kyiv, not saying anything about Western Ukraine, it may take some southern territory under control, connecting Crimea with Donbas. The negotiations are ongoing, but it will be a long time before any agreement is reached.
Let’s move to yesterday’s FOMC meeting. As widely expected, the Fed raised the federal funds rate. Finally! Although one Committee member (James Bullard) opted for a bolder move, the US central bank lifted the target range for its key policy rate only by 25 basis points, from 0-0.25% to 0.25-0.50%. It was the first hike since the end of 2018. The move also marks the start of the Fed’s tightening cycle after two years of ultra-easy monetary policy implemented in a response to the pandemic-related recession.
In support of these goals, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate from 1/4 to 1/2 percent and anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate.
It was, of course, the most important part of the FOMC statement. However, the central bankers also announced the beginning of quantitative tightening, i.e., the reduction of the enormous Fed’s balance sheet, at the next monetary policy meeting in May.
In addition, the Committee expects to begin reducing its holdings of Treasury securities and agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities at a coming meeting.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Fed deleted all references to the pandemic from the statement. Instead, it added a paragraph related to the war in Ukraine, pointing out that its exact implications for the U.S. economy are not yet known, except for the general upward pressure on inflation and downward pressure on GDP growth:
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is causing tremendous human and economic hardship. The implications for the U.S. economy are highly uncertain, but in the near term the invasion and related events are likely to create additional upward pressure on inflation and weigh on economic activity.
These changes in the statement were widely expected, so their impact on the gold market should be limited.
Dot Plot and Gold
The statement was accompanied by the latest economic projections conducted by the FOMC members. So, how do they look at the economy right now? As the table below shows, the central bankers expect the same unemployment rate and much slower economic growth this year compared to last December. This is a bit strange, as slower GDP growth should be accompanied by higher unemployment, but it’s a positive change for the gold market.
What’s more, the FOMC participants see inflation now as even more persistent because they expect 4.3% PCE inflation at the end of 2022 instead of 2.6%. Inflation is forecasted to decline in the following years, but only to 2.7% in 2023 and 2.3% in 2024, instead of the 2.3% and 2.1% seen in December. Slower economic growth accompanied by more stubborn inflation makes the economy look more like stagflation, which should be positive for gold prices.
Last but not least, a more aggressive tightening cycle is coming. Brace yourselves! According to the fresh dot plot, the FOMC members see seven hikes in interest rates this year as appropriate. That’s a huge hawkish turn compared to December, when they perceived only three interest rate hikes as desired. The central bankers expect another four hikes in 2024 instead of just the three painted in the previous dot plot. Hence, the whole forecasted path of the federal fund rate has become steeper as it’s expected to reach 1.9% this year and 2.8% next year, compared to the 0.9% and 1.6% seen earlier.
Wow, that’s a huge change that is very bearish for gold prices! The Fed signaled the fastest tightening since 2004-2006, which indicates that it has become really worried about inflation. It’s also possible that the war in Ukraine helped the US central bank adopt a more hawkish stance, as if monetary tightening leads to recession, there is an easy scapegoat to blame.
Implications for Gold
What does the recent FOMC meeting mean for the gold market? Well, the Fed hiked interest rates and announced quantitative tightening. These hawkish actions are theoretically negative for the yellow metal, but they were probably already priced in. The new dot plot is certainly more surprising. It shows higher inflation and slower economic growth this year, which should be bullish for gold. However, the newest economic projections also forecast a much steeper path of interest rates, which should, theoretically, prove to be negative for the price of gold.
How did gold perform? Well, it has been sliding recently in anticipation of the FOMC meeting. As the chart below shows, the price of the yellow metal plunged from $2,039 last week to $1,913 yesterday.
However, the immediate reaction of gold to the FOMC meeting was positive. As the chart below shows, the price of the yellow metal rebounded, jumping above $1,940. Of course, we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the short-term moves, but gold’s resilience in the face of the ultra-hawkish FOMC statement is a bullish sign.
Although it remains to be seen whether the upward move will prove to be sustainable, I wouldn’t be surprised if it will. This is what history actually suggests: when the Fed started its previous tightening cycle in December 2015, the price of gold bottomed out. Of course, history never repeats itself to the letter, but there is another important factor. The newest FOMC statement was very hawkish – probably too hawkish. I don’t believe that the Fed will hike interest rates to 1.9% this year. And you? It means that we have probably reached the peak of the Fed’s hawkishness and that it will rather soften its stance from then on. If I’m right, a lot of the downward pressure that constrained gold should be gone now.
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Arkadiusz Sieron, PhD
Sunshine Profits: Effective Investment through Diligence & Care