Wednesday, December 6

Fed seen keeping to aggressive rate hikes as unemployment rises

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Traders of futures tied to the Federal Reserve’s policy rate kept bets Friday the US central bank will stick to an aggressive path of interest rate hikes to cool inflation, even as a closely watched report showed the US unemployment rate ticking up.

Fed funds futures prices increased slightly Friday after a Labor Department report showed employers added a more-than-expected 315,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate rose to 3.7% from 3.5% as more workers joined the labor force.

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But the move in those contracts, which settle to the Fed’s policy rate, was too small to reflect much change in the view that the Fed will deliver a third 75-basis point rate hike at its Sept 20-21 meeting, lifting the benchmark rate to 3%-3.25%, and will keep raising rates into next year.

“Overall I don’t think it changes the hand for the Fed as it goes into the September meeting,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management. “Seventy-five basis points is still on the table.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell a week ago said the Fed will raise borrowing costs high enough to start biting into growth, soften the labor market and bring down inflation, but said the size of September’s rate hike would depend on the “totality” of the data before then.

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But with prices rising at more than three times the Fed’s 2% inflation target and at the highest in 40 years, the jobs report will play second fiddle to data in coming weeks on consumer prices and inflation expectations, both key concerns as the Powell Fed seeks to bring demand down to meet constrained supply.

Prices of futures contracts settling next year showed traders now expect the Fed to lift its policy rate to about 3.85% by March — slightly lower than the 3.9% seen before the jobs report.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Additional reporting by Herbert Lash and Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)