Fed poised for sharp rates rise: Fears remain despite consumer prices showing subdued inflation

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The Independent Online
FRESH confirmation that US inflation was still subdued last month yesterday failed to dispel fears that the US Federal Reserve is poised to raise key interest rates next week, perhaps sharply.

US bond prices rallied briefly on the news that US consumer prices rose by a less-than-expected 0.1 per cent in April, leaving prices 2.4 per cent higher than a year earlier. But the rally, which pushed yields on long-dated US Treasury bonds down to 7.42 per cent, later gave way to interest-rate worries and suspected selling by hedge funds, and yields climbed back to 7.55 per cent. Concerns over US rates also hit London share prices and the FT-SE index of 100 leading UK shares dropped to 3119.2, a loss of 18.6 points.

The Fed's policy-making Open Market Committee meets next Tuesday amid worries that, despite two sets of good inflation figures this week, it will lift its benchmark Federal Funds rate at least a quarter point and perhaps as much as half a point, to 4.25 per cent.

Yesterday's CPI data followed figures showing that prices at the wholesale level dropped in April by 0.1 per cent and were 0.4 per cent lower than a year earlier. The core CPI rate, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.2 per cent last month to stand 2.8 per cent higher than a year earlier.

But analysts pointed out that the recent benign inflation trend partly reflected a slide of 4 per cent in petrol prices in the year to April. By contrast, oil prices have climbed in the past few weeks and look set to remain firm.

Though the evidence is that inflation pressures have been ebbing, the markets are worried the economy is now growing strongly enough to rekindle inflation. Until this week's figures, there had been fears that the Fed was catching up with incipient inflation pressures too late in the day. Those fears abated with April's good inflation figures.

In sharp contrast with the market's recent mood, analysts were yesterday saying that a sharp rise in rates would finally lay to rest the turmoil in the bond markets by demonstrating that the Fed had tightened monetary policy sufficiently to curb future inflation pressures.

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