Perhaps the final major market catalyst of the year is set to come to markets on Wednesday.
At 2:00 p.m. ET, the Federal Reserve will announce its final monetary policy decision of the year, and markets expect the central bank to raise interest rates for the third time this year.
The Fed should push the target range for its benchmark interest up higher by 0.25%, to a new corridor of 1.25%-1.50%, pegging the Effective Fed Funds rate at 1.37% which would be the highest since October 2008.
Wednesday will also be Janet Yellen’s final post-meeting press conference as Fed chair, as current Fed governor Jay Powell is set to take over from Yellen in February.
Elsewhere on the economic schedule, investors will get the November reading on inflation in the morning, which is expected to show prices are still rising less than the Fed’s 2% target.
On the earnings side, Wednesday’s schedule is light with Pier 1 Imports (PIR) the biggest report of the day.
Investors will also be keeping an eye on results of the special election in Alabama in the race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ seat, with Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones in a dead heat as of the latest polling ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Other Washington, D.C. storylines to monitor on Wednesday will be any news about progress being made on tax reform, which GOP lawmakers still hope to bring to a vote in both houses before the end of the year.
Yellen’s last stand
While markets expect the Fed to raise interest rates on Wednesday, the hour-long press conference with Chair Yellen will be the day’s main highlight.
This will mark Yellen’s final time taking questions from reporters after a Fed decision and one expects that Yellen will be asked about her legacy at the central bank, which has moved from a crisis-era policy stance to normalizing interest rates during her tenure.
Yellen is also the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve, though writing in The New York Times this weekend Amy Chozik noted that Yellen “almost never talks about gender in the abstract or her historic role as the [Fed’s] chairman.” Yellen’s role as perhaps the most influential woman in the world during his time as Fed chair, however, could be a question the chair faces on Wednesday.
Investors will also get an updated look at the Fed’s economic forecasts, which will be perhaps an even bigger focus for investors than the by-now anticipated news of another interest rate hike.
Alongside its latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), the Fed will also release an updated version of its “Dot Plot,” which gives estimates on future interest rates from current Fed officials. As of September, this plot indicated that officials see the Fed raising interest rates three times in 2018.
“While we continue to expect four rate hikes next year, we think it is premature to expect the median dot at end-2018 to move up from the current three-hike baseline,” write economists at Goldman Sachs. “However, we do expect the median dot for 2019 to move back up from two to three hikes.”
In other words, Goldman expects the Fed’s target interest rate range to be 3%-3.25% by the end of the decade. The last time the Fed Funds rate was at this level was early 2008.
Goldman adds that, “The December meeting and press conference will likely again center around the Fed’s dual mandate dilemma balancing concern about both labor market overheating and persistently soft inflation.
“Beyond these core issues, a few potential emerging themes for 2018—financial stability risks, concern about inflation expectations, and alternative policy frameworks such as price level targeting—could also gain airtime at Chair Yellen’s last press conference.”
Wednesday’s SEP will also give the Fed’s forecast for GDP growth and the unemployment rate over the next few years, with an update on 2018 expected given that the Fed expected unemployment to be 4.3% in the fourth quarter of this year and 4.1% in the fourth quarter of next year; in October and November, the unemployment rate was 4.1%.
As for markets, which saw the Dow and S&P 500 close at a record high on Tuesday, Bespoke Investment Group notes that the S&P 500 has rise an average of 0.31% on all Fed days since 1994, better than the 0.03% rise the benchmark index rises on any given trading day.
Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland
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