Fed increasingly expected to cut interest rates to zero next week

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks to reporters after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates in an emergency move designed to shield the world’s largest economy from the impact of the coronavirus, during a news conference in Washington, March 3, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Wall Street is increasingly expecting the Fed to use more firepower next week and take interest rates back to the zero bound.

Bank of America Global Research Friday said it now expects reduction of 100 basis points, or 1 percentage point, from the fed funds target range, currently at 1% to 1.25% after the March 3 emergency rate cut. The firm based its call on its new view that the economy will see negative growth and be on the brink of recession in coming months. 

Goldman Sachs on Thursday issued its own call for a 100 basis point cut.

“In light of the continued growth in coronavirus cases in the US and globally, the sharp further tightening in financial conditions, and rising risks to the economic outlook, we now expect the FOMC to cut the funds rate 100bp on March 18, a faster return to the crisis-era 0-0.25% rate than under our previous call for two 50bp steps in March and April,” Goldman economists wrote. 

JPMorgan Chase economists earlier in the week said they expected a return to zero rates.

BofA economists said they also expect the Fed to take other actions, such as reinvestments in mortgage securities and other liquidity programs.

“The economy will flirt with recession in the coming months with negative GDP in 2Q, we believe,” wrote the BofA economists. “Growth is expected to remain soft in 3Q with recovery starting thereafter. Get ready for disinflation – headline slowing notably and core remaining below target. An aggressive policy response is needed.” 

The firm cut its growth forecast for second quarter to negative 0.5% from 1%, The economists now expect a return to very sluggish growth of just 0.3% for Q3 GDP and a rebound to 1.8% in the fourth quarter. BofA now expects 2020 growth of 1.2% and 1.5% next year.

“We expect retail sales to contract by 0.2% [month over month in February].That said, core control sales should grow 0.3% as consumers are stockpiling certain items amid the virus threat,” the BofA economists wrote. 

The firm also said the Fed is moving swiftly and will go to what central bankers call the zero lower bound, taking the target range to 0 to 0.25%. The New York Fed on Thursday announced steps to boost liquidity and reserves in the banking system, in part through purchasing a broader range of Treasury maturities, in place of its $60 billion in bill purchases.

“These secondary market purchases will help to clear some of the off-the-run Treasuries on dealer balance sheets. Second, the NY Fed announced a slate of weekly term [one-month and [three-month] repo operations over the remainder of the monthly schedule with a minimum size of $500bn each,” the Goldman economists said.  “The substantial increase in operation limits is in keeping with the NY Fed’s commitment to provide cash to banks as needed during Treasury market disruptions.”

J.P. Morgan economists, in a note, said if the Fed cuts to zero it can couple that with forward guidance, promising a patient posture, possibly through making rate moves dependent on inflation developments. They could say they are prepared to use the Fed balance sheet, though the economists said they doubt more assets purchases would be that helpful, given where long term interest rates are.

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