Powell, explaining the U.S. central bank’s first steps toward withdrawing emergency pandemic support for the economy, told reporters Wednesday that tapering “could come as soon as the next meeting.”
That refers to the policy gathering on Nov. 2-3, though he left the door open to waiting longer if needed and stressed that tapering was not meant to start a countdown to liftoff from zero interest rates.
“The timing and pace of the coming reduction in asset purchases will not be intended to carry a direct signal regarding the timing of interest-rate liftoff,” he said following the completion of the two-day gathering of the Federal Open Market Committee.
Powell said he didn’t expect the Fed to begin rate increases until after completing the taper process, which would wrap up “sometime around the middle of next year.”
“It is a bit faster than the last cycle,” said Jim O’Sullivan, TD Securities chief U.S. macro strategist. “He was very clear in the press conference that ‘soon’ means November.”
The Fed took 10 months to complete the exercise of scaling back bond buying back in 2014.
Powell’s performance was being parsed both by investors and the White House: The central bank chief’s term expires in February and President Joe Biden is expected to decide this fall whether or not to renominate him to another four years in his post. Bloomberg News has reported that White House aides are considering recommending the president keep him on the job.
In addition to signaling a scale back in upcoming bond buying, officials also published updated quarterly projections which showed officials are now evenly split on whether or not it will be appropriate to begin raising the federal funds rate as soon as next year, according to the median estimate of FOMC participants. In June, the median projection indicated no rate increases until 2023.
The projections are not a policy commitment and reflect the personal views of policy makers, some of whom who may no longer be serving at the Fed next year. Biden is expected to fill an open slot on the seven-seat Board in Washington as well as name two new vice chairs when the terms of the current incumbents — Richard Clarida and Randal Quarles — expire in coming months.
“The chairman is a dove among hawks,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton LLP. “He would like to divorce tapering from liftoff and stressed the threshold for rate hikes is much higher than that for tapering.”
The U.S. rates market continued to price in a first hike around the start of 2023, although five-year Treasury rates rose as traders anticipated a slightly more aggressive path once benchmark increases begin.