THE BASIS POINT

Why Rates Racing Higher After Fed’s Final “Low-Rate” Decision of 2010

Following the last Fed policy statement of 2010 (below), rates continue higher—30yr fixed 5% today vs. 4% on October 8—as mortgage and Treasury bond prices continue to trade lower on the 4 rate themes of recent weeks. The Fed noted that “the economic recovery is continuing” and that they’d continue the $600b+ Treasury buying (QE2) campaign announced November 3 to keep this recovery going. Kansas City Fed president Thomas Hoenig remains “concerned that a continued high level of monetary accommodation would increase the risks of future economic and financial imbalances and, over time, would cause an increase in long-term inflation expectations that could destabilize the economy.”

Of all items in the statement, Hoenig’s position (that 0-0.25% overnight rates and ongoing Quantitative Easing is inflationary) is perhaps the most worrisome to bond markets because inflation erodes buying power of a bond’s future cash flows. Hoenig was the only FOMC member to vote against such accommodative rate policy, keeping his streak of dissenting at every 2010 meeting.

FULL FOMC DEC 14 STATEMENT
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in November confirms that the economic recovery is continuing, though at a rate that has been insufficient to bring down unemployment. Household spending is increasing at a moderate pace, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit. Business spending on equipment and software is rising, though less rapidly than earlier in the year, while investment in nonresidential structures continues to be weak. Employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. The housing sector continues to be depressed. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable, but measures of underlying inflation have continued to trend downward.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. Currently, the unemployment rate is elevated, and measures of underlying inflation are somewhat low, relative to levels that the Committee judges to be consistent, over the longer run, with its dual mandate. Although the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability, progress toward its objectives has been disappointingly slow.

To promote a stronger pace of economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate, the Committee decided today to continue expanding its holdings of securities as announced in November. The Committee will maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings. In addition, the Committee intends to purchase $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011, a pace of about $75 billion per month. The Committee will regularly review the pace of its securities purchases and the overall size of the asset-purchase program in light of incoming information and will adjust the program as needed to best foster maximum employment and price stability.

The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate for an extended period.

The Committee will continue to monitor the economic outlook and financial developments and will employ its policy tools as necessary to support the economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; James Bullard; Elizabeth A. Duke; Sandra Pianalto; Sarah Bloom Raskin; Eric S. Rosengren; Daniel K. Tarullo; Kevin M. Warsh; and Janet L. Yellen.

Voting against the policy was Thomas M. Hoenig. In light of the improving economy, Mr. Hoenig was concerned that a continued high level of monetary accommodation would increase the risks of future economic and financial imbalances and, over time, would cause an increase in long-term inflation expectations that could destabilize the economy.