At the last FOMC Meeting, the FED announced they were removing the hard unemployment rate target and would be using other data along with the unemployment rate to guide interest rate policy. While this makes a lot of sense, the market did not like it one bit and rates jumped.
The change had to happen because the unemployment rate is almost at the FED’s target rate but not because of a strong labor market. The unemployment rate is falling as millions of people are leaving the labor force and not even looking for jobs. Millions of others are underemployed either working part time or working below their qualifications and experience.
The only other difference was a small change in the outlook of some FED members and their estimates of future rates, but this was in the minutes of the last FED meeting and matched current market projections. I guess the markets like subjective criteria, even flawed ones, compared to subjective measures and reading tea leaves.
I was confused because I felt the announcement and new FOMC Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s press conference was very dovish on rates and something that the markets would like. Then yesterday, Yellen again appeared to talk rates down emphasizing how long the FED would have to support markets etc. I would not call her a rebel, but she sure is yelling about keeping rates low.
Economic data has been mixed with a slight bias to weaker than expected when considering many estimates were revised lower. The weak reports are still being dismissed as weather related. We will find out more this Friday with the March employment report.
In my opinion, Obamacare is the elephant in the corner. Changing rules, higher deductibles, and higher premiums will slow consumer spending. Most people just don’t know they will be paying them yet. As each month passes, more and more people will be forced over to these plans with higher fees and deductibles and will finally see how much more they will pay and it will hit their budgets. As it does, consumer spending will slow.
The bottom line is that we are not sure if we have poor data or a slowing economy and neither is the FED.