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Dashboard update summary:
New data continue to strengthen the U.S. macroeconomic picture. Minutes from the most recent meeting of the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee (FOMC) signal that the U.S. central bank may increase its key federal funds interest rate target by 25 basis points in June. Markets have responded by increasingly pricing higher interest rate expectations into the bond and foreign exchange markets.
Industrial production stronger than expected
The Federal Reserve publishes an index of U.S. industrial production that goes back to 1919. The monthly index data for April was released on Tuesday, and showed greater-than-expected industrial sector output. This was a result largely of a month-over-month spike in production in the utilities sector, which had previously been hard hit by declines in both demand for utilities and commodity prices (see below). The index had declined each month so far during the year, and rebounded by seven tenths of a percent from March to April.
Jobless claims drop to less alarming level
Data from the week of May 7 on the number of new claims of joblessness hit a recent high, drawing some attention. New data for the week of May 14 were better, with 278,000 new jobless claims during that week.
Inflation low and steady but pointed higher
April data on inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was released on Tuesday. Annualized inflation for all items was 1.1 percent in April, while the Core CPI (the CPI excluding food & beverage, and energy) grew by 2.1 percent. Healthcare continues to grow at the fastest rate of any major item category in the basket. Energy and transportation costs are still below their previous year level, but less so than in March (see below).
FOMC minutes suggest June hike more likely
On Wednesday, the Fed released minutes from the FOMC meeting at the end of April. The minutes indicate that if new labor market data shows continued strengthening, and inflation continues toward two percent, then the committee will likely raise the federal funds target rate in June.
An increase in the federal funds rate causes other short-term (and to a lesser extent long-term) interest rates to rise. In essence, the fed funds target rate should act as a floor on the cost of risk-free borrowing of U.S. dollars.
Reaction of markets
Expectations about future interest rates play a major role in finance. Short term interest rate increases, like those from fed funds rate increases, generate broad effects, including on long term interest rates, the demand for money in the real economy, the propensity to save and invest, and bond and foreign exchange markets. Markets react today to changes today in expectations about the future. This happened following the release of the FOMC minutes; U.S. treasury bond prices fell immediately. The yield on ten- and two-year treasury bonds jumped, closing the week at 1.85% and 0.89% respectively.
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