The Fed’s move to hike the discount rate by 25bps has set the cat amongst the pigeons. Although the move was signalled in the FOMC minutes yesterday a hike in the discount rate was not expected to happen so soon. The Fed sees the modifications which also include reducing the typical maximum maturity for primary credit loans to overnight, as technical adjustments, rather than a signal of any change in monetary policy.
Nonetheless, the market reaction has been sharp, with the USD strengthening across the board and short term interest rate and stock futures falling. Although the reaction looks overdone and will likely be followed by some consolidation over the short term, the move will be interpreted as the beginning of a move towards monetary policy normalisation despite the Fed’s insistence that this is not the case. The firm USD tone is set to remain in place for now but the bulk of the strengthening has likely already occurred following the announcement.
The Fed’s desire to reduce the size of its burgeoning balance sheet, which at $2.3 trillion is roughly around three times its size before the financial crisis began, will imply further measures to reduce USD liquidity over the coming months. A withdrawal of liquidity could have positive implications for the USD but given that the Fed is still some months away from hiking the Fed Funds rate, interest rate differentials will not turn positive for the USD for a while yet.
The move has however, changed the complexity of the FX market and likely shifted currencies into new lower ranges against the USD. There were plenty of reasons to sell EUR even before the Fed move and the discount rate hike inflicted further damage on EUR/USD which dropped below the key psychological level of 1.35. GBP and commodity currencies were also big losers, with GBP/USD below 1.55. Key technical support levels to watch will be EUR/USD 1.3422, GBP/USD 1.5374 and AUD/USD 0.884.
US Federal Reserve Balance Sheet ($trillion)