Wall Street ramps up Fed rate hike expectations as inflation roars

What is behind ‘knee-jerk buying’ during record inflation?

Lisa Ellis and Michele Schneider provide insight on the state of the American consumer on ‘Making Money.’

Wall Street is betting the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at the steepest pace in over two decades as policymakers look to tame red-hot inflation. 

Traders are already pricing in a 100% chance of a half-point rate increase during the Fed's May meeting, in addition to at least three more 50-basis point hikes at the U.S. central bank's subsequent meetings in June, July and September, according to the CME Group, which tracks trading. 


By September, traders expect the federal funds target range to be at least 2.25% to 2.5%, well above the current range of 0.25% to 0.50%. 

A man wearing a mask walks past the U.S. Federal Reserve building in Washington D.C., on April 29, 2020.  ((Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images) / Getty Images)

"The Fed is charging toward a 50-basis point hike on May 4," said Luke Tilley, chief economist at Wilmington Trust. "Fed speakers are talking it up, the market has it priced in, and the economic data has not faltered. Fed officials that spoke this week ranged from saying a 50-basis point hike was ‘worthy of consideration’ all the way up to supporting it explicitly. More notably, none have argued against it."

Fed policymakers raised rates by a quarter-percentage point in March, but have since confirmed that sharper, half-point increases are likely in the coming months, beginning in May, as they look to quell inflation. The government reported last week that prices soared by 8.5% in March from the previous year, the fastest pace since 1981. 

"It is appropriate to be moving a little more quickly," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday during a panel discussion at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings. "I also think there’s something in the idea of front end-loading whatever accommodation one thinks is appropriate. So that points in the direction of 50-basis points being on the table."

In this Jan. 29, 2020 file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell pauses during a news conference in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File / AP Newsroom)

Some economists believe the Fed waited too long to confront the burst in inflation, while others have expressed concerns that moving too quickly to stabilize prices risks triggering an economic recession. Hiking interest rates tends to create higher rates on consumer and business loans, which slows the economy by forcing employers to cut back on spending. 

Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Fannie Mae are among the organizations now forecasting the possibility of at least a modest recession in 2023 as the Fed crushes consumer demand with higher interest rates. 

Powell has pushed back against concern that further tightening by the central bank will trigger a recession and has maintained optimism that the Fed can strike a delicate balance between taming inflation without crushing the economy. 


Still, he acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead on Thursday and said that it is "absolutely essential" for central bankers to restore price stability. 

"Our goal is to use our tools to get demand and supply back in sync, so inflation moves back into place, without a slowdown that amounts to a recession," Powell said. "I don't think you'll hear anyone at the Fed say that's straightforward and easy. It's going to be challenging."

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