WASHINGTON -- Despite its dramatic and instantaneous impact on bond markets, the Federal Reserve's latest double-barreled interest rate hike had little impact on analysts' expectations of how the economy will perform through the end of the year.
"It doesn't alter our outlook," Darwin Beck, director of the economics department at CS First Boston, said yesterday.
The Fed raised both short-term interest rates it controls by one-half percentage point, taking the federal funds rate to 4.75% and the discount rate to 4%, in what analysts said was the most aggressive action among the Fed's plausible options.
While economists generally expect growth to slow in the second half of 1994 compared to the first half, most said the Fed's action on Tuesday did not push them to revise down their third- and fourth-quarter growth forecasts.
"For the economy, growth in the second half should be unaffected," said Allen Sinai, chief economist of Lehman Brothers, in his market commentary. But "first-quarter and firsthalf growth in 1995 likely will be dampened."
That's the general view among analysts, for two reasons, as Henry Willmore, an economist of Chase Manhattan Bank, explained: Most analysts expected a rate increase so their forecasts reflected that, and it takes longer than six months for a given rate hike to have an appreciable effect on overall growth.
Willmore said it takes anywhere from six months to two years for a given rate change to fully affect the economy. Growth in the second half of the year is likely to slow because of previous rate hikes, among other things, he said. The Fed has raised rates five times this year.
However, Fed rate boosts tend to push up other key interest rates. For example, several banks raised their prime rate not long after the Fed acted on Tuesday. This could suppress the housing market because some variable-rate mortgages are tied to the prime rate.
"Some of the interest rate sensitive sectors will be slowed a bit this year [by Tuesday's rate hike] but not drastically," said Gary Thayer, senior economist at A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., a St. Louis investment firm.
Fewer home buyers generally means fewer consumers in the market for durable goods, such as appliances and furniture, Thayer noted.
On the other hand, Thomas Carpenter, chief economist of ASB Capital Management in WashingtOn, D.C., speculated that home sales may actually rise in the coming months by this week's rate hike because 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are tied to the long end of the yield curve, where tightenings tend to push rates down.
Despite the recent trend toward more variable-rate products, the majority of mortgages are still the conventional 30-year fixed-rate kind, Carpenter said.
Because it takes time to work through the growth pipeline, Tuesday's rate hike had little effect on analysts' expectation of inflation during the rest of 1994. Most economists expect inflation to begin a gradual rise this quarter and next and then throughout 1995.
Beck of CS First Boston predicted that retail inflation will shift from just below 3% to just above 3% before the end of the year. That's not a drastic increase, he said, unless you're a central banker claiming to be ahead of the inflation curve.
Moreover, most economists expect Fed officials to increase rates at least one more time this year and maybe agmn early next year, depending on how fast growth slows.
The Federal Open Market Committee meets again in late September and then in mid-November. Most economists interpreted a Fed statement on Tuesday to mean that the Fed will sit tight on rates at least until the November meeting.
"Five percent on the federal funds rate is still expected late this year, with almost no chance of a hike at the Sept. 27 FOMC meeting, but probably one at the Nov. 15 meeting," Sinai said.
Tuesday's rate hike, along with the four previous ones, will likely keep inflation from rising drastically, analysts said. "The Fed probably has prevented a real spike in inflation," Thayer said.