‘Tis the season for economic forecasts, and we’ve assembled a few for your information – or your amusement, if you enjoy measuring how far from the bulls-eye many of these projections often land. As a group, economic forecasters have traditionally done better than political pollsters, though, admittedly, that’s not a particularly high bar.
The Federal Reserve is signaling that a December rate hike is almost certain. As widely expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) left rates unchanged at its November meeting, reflecting somewhat more concern than the FBI about interfering in the impending election. But the committee’s post-meeting statement indicated that Fed officials see the moon, and sun, and stars aligning nicely to justify the long-awaited increase in the Fed’s benchmark rate, which has remained unchanged since last December.
A child playing jump-rope (which children don’t actually seem to do any more), will wait for just the right moment, when the rope is in precisely the right position, to begin jumping. The Federal Reserve, similarly, appears to be waiting for the right moment, when the economic moon and stars and planets are all perfectly aligned, to boost interest rates. It hasn’t found that moment yet.
There’s an old rule-of-thumb for real estate investment: When the dentists and doctors finally get into the market, it’s time for everyone else to get out. A variation on that mostly (though not entirely) humorous observation applies to housing analysts: When they agree the market is healthy, it is almost certainly going to stumble, or fall.
If the June employment report calmed jittery analysts, the July report had to make them smile and maybe even grin. Employers added 255,000 workers to their payrolls, beating far more conservative estimates and providing strong evidence that the labor market is churning along at a steady and sustainable pace. Revisions to the May and June reports added another 18,000 jobs to the three-month total, providing more good news in a report that contained a lot of it.
Pity the poor Federal Reserve officials, fingers twitching over the interest rate trigger, countdown nearing “go,” forced once again to reassess whether the economic indicators are telling them it is still too soon to act.
Analysts have used many adjectives to describe the labor market, but consistent isn't one of them. Over the past year, the Department of Labor's monthly employment report has surprised, disappointed, delighted, dismayed and in recent months, relieved, with a series of 200,000 plus monthly job gains.
Anyone looking for a clear assessment of the housing market won’t find it in the February housing statistics: Existing home sales plummeted, pending sales rose (though not by much); new home sales and single-family starts beat expectations, but permits fell more than anticipated; and inventory levels remained crimped, pushing home prices up and beyond the reach of many prospective first-time buyers.
If you’re tired of predicting who will win the presidential primaries – or who will say what about whom in that process ─ there’s another increasingly popular guessing game you might want to play instead: How many times will the Federal Reserve hike interest rates this year?
The economy is stronger than some indicators suggest, making a recession less likely than some analysts fear, but enough of a risk to make Federal Reserve policy makers more cautious than they might like to be about boosting interest rates this year.
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