Reuters poll: Fed to shutter pandemic support asset purchases by end-2022

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. dollar note is seen in front of a stock graph in this picture illustration
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. dollar note is seen in front of a stock graph in this November 7, 2016 picture illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

July 16, 2021

By Indradip Ghosh and Shrutee Sarkar

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve will shutter its asset purchases programme by end-2022, according to a Reuters poll, with a few more economists now predicting a rate hike as early as next year, but they pegged new COVID-19 variants as the biggest economic risk.

However, Fed chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday withdrawing monetary policy support was a long way off, with 7.5 million jobs still missing from before the pandemic.

Following his testimony, where he also concluded that high inflation would be transitory, the U.S. 10-year yield and the greenback declined, while stocks rose.

The July 12-15 poll of over 100 economists showed the U.S. economy would grow at a healthy pace and also that elevated inflation would prevail longer than previously expected.

Last month, a majority of economists had predicted the Fed would announce a taper plan to its $120 billion monthly asset purchases sometime this year, with the withdrawal to start early next year.

All but two of 41 economists who answered an additional question said the Fed will have completely stopped its pandemic support bond buys by end-2022.

That included three economists who expected a complete withdrawal by the end of this year.

“We continue to doubt the Fed’s narrative that inflation is ‘transitory’ and instead see the risks it stays elevated for many more months,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING in New York.

“Consequently, there appears little reason to continue with the Fed’s QE asset purchases.”

Only two respondents expected the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) programme to end later – in early 2023.

Reuters poll graphic on the U.S. economic and monetary policy outlook: https://tmsnrt.rs/3wC4UXb

The Core Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index – the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, which recorded its biggest surge since April 1992 in May – was expected to remain on average above 3% in each quarter in 2021 and early next year, higher than last month’s prediction.

Across 2021, that measure of inflation was forecast to average 2.9. While inflation was then predicted to ease to average 2.3% and 2.1% in 2022 and 2023, respectively, it would be above the Fed’s target rate of 2.0%.

On benchmark interest rates, the poll consensus pointed to no change through to the end of next year.

But a larger number of economists polled predicted at least one 25 basis point rise in the federal funds rate by end-2022 compared to last month.

The median of a smaller sample showed two rate hikes in 2023 – lining up with the Fed’s own dot plots – compared to just one 25 basis points increase predicted in June.

“U.S. policymakers have shifted their viewpoint to a 2023 start point for interest rate increases, but we think that is too late,” added ING’s Knightley, who predicts two rate hikes in the second half of 2022.

Reuters poll graphic on the U.S. inflation, economic growth and unemployment outlook: https://tmsnrt.rs/3hIbbwy

Despite expectations for a robust economic recovery and about an average 400,000 jobs to be added monthly through to Q4 2022, the U.S. unemployment rate was predicted to remain above its pre-pandemic level of 3.5% until 2024 at least.

The U.S. economy – after having likely expanded at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 9.5% last quarter – was forecast to grow 7.1% and 5.0% in the current quarter and next, respectively.

Asked about the biggest risk to the U.S. economy this year, 60% of economists, or 30 of 50, said the spread of new variants of COVID-19.

Over one-fourth, or 13 economists, said high inflation, while five said either the Fed’s taper or a slower rate of economic growth.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll)

(Reporting by Indradip Ghosh and Shrutee Sarkar; Polling by Manjul Paul and Hari Kishan; Editing by Rahul Karunakar and Chizu Nomiyama)