So, when is the Federal Reserve going to increase the rate for overnight borrowing?
It’s a question that has plagued bond investors throughout the first quarter of 2015. In January, 10-year Treasury yields fell as low as 1.6 percent. Early in March, they rose to about 2.2 percent before falling back below 2.0 percent. The Financial Times reported:
“Higher volatility is typical when markets are on the cusp of a major turning point, and that has been the story so far this year for U.S. Treasury debt… The year has already been characterized by big swings in bond yields, which move inversely with prices… The lack of a clear signal over when policy shifts towards a tightening phase may provide the central bank with greater flexibility but does not quell the uncertainty facing investors.”
In recent weeks, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen indicated the timing and pace of a rate change would be determined by economic data. In general, the Fed considers a variety of employment and inflation measures when determining policy. The Times suggested bond markets have priced out the possibility of a June rate hike, although several Federal Reserve officials recently said a June increase is still under consideration.
U.S. stock markets reflected investor uncertainty last week, too. Turmoil in the Middle East sparked concern an oil price reversal could occur if supply is disrupted. In addition, investors worried weaker-than-expected economic data might indicate U.S. economic growth was slowing. The Commerce Department reported business investment spending plans fell for the sixth straight month. That could result in reduced expectations for first quarter growth, as well as delay a Fed rate increase. Stock markets showed signs of life late in the week but finished lower.