10 Feb

January Starts 2020 With Strong Canadian Job Growth

General

Posted by: John Dunford

January Starts 2020 With Strong Canadian Job Growth

Bottom Line: Canada’s economy has been boosted by the fastest pace of immigration in the Group of Seven countries, spurring a housing boom that is pushing up demand for everything from plumbers to electricians. Indeed, Bloomberg News recently highlighted the more substantial surge in male employment in Canada relative to the US, where women have eclipsed men as the majority of jobholders.

Female job growth in Canada is also strong, and labour force participation rates are higher in Canada than in the US. The jobless rate for women age 25 and older is only 4.6% in Canada, compared to 4.9% for men.

4 Feb

Canadian Qualifying Mortgage Rate Lowered to 4.99%

General

Posted by: John Dunford

Market interest rates have fallen sharply since the coronavirus-led investor flight to the safety of government bonds. The 5-year government bond yield–a harbinger of conventional mortgage rates–now stands at 1.34%, down sharply from the 1.60+% range it was trading in before the virus became global news (see chart below).

This morning, one of the Big-Six banks finally reacted. TD cut its posted 5-year fixed rate to 4.99%. TD’s posted rate had previously been at 5.34%, making this a 36 basis point cut. Other banks had lowered their qualifying rate to 5.19% last July, leading the Bank of Canada to cut its 5-year conventional mortgage rate to 5.19%. This is the qualifying rate under the B-20 rule introduced on January 1, 2018.

Even the regulators have been questioning the efficacy and fairness of using the big-bank posted rate as a qualifying rate for mortgage stress testing.

On January 24, the Assistant Superintendent of OSFI’s Regulation Sector, Ben Gully, gave a speech at the C.D. Howe Institute suggesting that the B-20 qualifying mortgage rate historically would be no more than 200 basis points above contract rates. He said that OSFI chose the “best available rate at the time.”

He went on to say that for many years, the difference between the benchmark rate and the average contract rate was 200 bps. However, this gap “has been widening more recently, suggesting that the benchmark is less responsive to market changes than when it was first proposed. We are reviewing this aspect of our qualifying rate, as the posted rate is not playing the role that we intended. As always, we will share our results with our federal partners. This will help to inform the advice OSFI might provide to the Minister, as requested in the mandate letter to him.”

By keeping posted rates too high, the Big-Six banks have inflated the qualifying rate, making it more difficult than necessary to pass the stress test to get a mortgage.

While TD’s rate cut is welcome news, its posted rate is still too high by historical standards. Given today’s average contract rates, the posted rate should be at least 20 bps lower still.

Banks have a strong incentive to inflate their posted mortgage rate. For one thing, they are the basis for the calculation of big-bank mortgage penalties. Also, they are the minimum qualifying rate.

The posted rate does not appropriately reflect the state of the mortgage market as few borrowers would pay this rate. Interestingly, banks often move this rate in lock-step, or close to it, reflecting their dominant oligopolistic position in the marketplace.

If a couple of the other big banks follow TD’s lead, the Bank of Canada benchmark rate will be below 5% for the first time since January 2018 when the new B-20 rules were adopted. Lowering the stress test rate by 20 bps from 5.19% to 4.99% would require roughly 1.8% less income to qualify for a mortgage on the average Canadian home price (assuming a 20% downpayment), increasing buying power by 2%. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a meaningful psychological impact on already improving housing markets. The latest CREA data shows that the national average home price surged 9.6% year-over-year in December. A lower stress test rate would make a busy spring housing market even more active.

29 Jan

News Update

General

Posted by: John Dunford

Canadian 5-year Yield Fell To Lowest Level Since October

Global investors are selling stocks and piling into the safety of bonds in response to fears that the Wuhan coronavirus could disrupt global economic activity. Gold prices, another haven, have also risen. The Government of Canada 5-year bond yield traded this morning at roughly 1.35%, well below its nearly 1.70% level one month ago. The 5-year yield leads fixed mortgage rates, so if this trend persists, we might see widely available fixed-5-year rates in the 2.50% range once again in February.

____________________________________________

Bank of Canada Now Buying 10-year CMBs

The Bank of Canada announced yesterday that effective immediately, the Bank will expand the Canada Mortgage-Backed securities (CMBs, which are government-guaranteed) it can purchase in the primary market to include 10-year fixed-rate bond issues. In 2018, The Bank expanded the assets it acquires to 5-year fixed and floating CMBs. The Bank held $517 million of these 5-year CMBs as of November 30, 2019.

This move by the BoC should improve liquidity, reducing yields on 10-year CMBs, possibly lowering 10-year fixed rates for mortgage borrowers. Governor Poloz supports efforts to extend the duration of mortgages.

_____________________________

First-Time Homebuyers Incentive Plan Flops

Only about 3,000 applicants were approved for the Liberals’ First-Time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI) in 2019. That’s just $55 million in funding, a less-than-stellar start given its $1.25-billion three-year target. (This information is according to attendees at the TD Securities’ Financial Services Conference where CMHC made comments.)

22 Jan

Bank of Canada Holds Steady Despite Economic Slowdown

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The Bank of Canada (BoC) announced today that it’s maintaining the overnight rate at 1.75%.

The Bank Rate is correspondingly 2% and the deposit rate is 1.5%. The BoC has maintained the current overnight rate October of 2018, when it was raised from 1.5%.

The Bank projects that growth in the Canadian economy will accelerate from 1.6% this year to 2% in 2021.

This comes after a recent survey in which nearly all economists predicted the central bank would hold rates at their current level. Thirty-one percent of those polled, however, thought that the Bank should lower rates even further.

The overnight rate is the interest rate at which major financial institutions borrow and lend one-day (or “overnight”) funds among themselves; the Bank sets a target level for that rate. This target for the overnight rate is often referred to as the Bank’s policy interest rate.

Changes in the target for the overnight rate influence other interest rates, such as those for consumer loans and mortgages. They can also affect the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar.

The next interest rate announcement is March 4th.



In a more dovish statement, the Bank of Canada maintained its target for the overnight rate at 1.75% for the tenth consecutive time. Today’s decision was widely expected as members of the Governing Council have signalled that the Bank still believes that the Canadian economy is resilient, despite the marked slowdown in growth in the fourth quarter of last year that has spilled into the early part of this year. The economy has underperformed the forecast in the October Monetary Policy Report (MPR).

In today’s MPR, the Bank estimates growth of only 0.3% in Q4 of 2019 and 1.3%in the first quarter of 2020. Exports fell late last year, and business investment appears to have weakened after a strong Q3, reflecting a decline in business confidence. Job creation has slowed, and indicators of consumer confidence and spending have been much softer than expected. The one bright light has been residential investment, which was robust through most of 2019, moderating to a still-solid pace in the fourth quarter only because of a dearth of newly listed properties for sale.

The central bank’s press release stated that “Some of the slowdown in growth in late 2019 was related to temporary factors that include strikes, poor weather, and inventory adjustments. The weaker data could also signal that global economic conditions have been affecting Canada’s economy to a greater extent than was predicted. Moreover, during the past year, Canadians have been saving a larger share of their incomes, which could signal increased consumer caution which could dampen consumer spending but help to alleviate financial vulnerabilities at the same time.”

The January MPR states that over the projection horizon (2020 and 2021), “business investment and exports are anticipated to improve as oil transportation capacity expands, and the impact of trade policy headwinds on global growth diminishes. Household spending is projected to strengthen, driven by solid growth of both the population and household disposable income.” Growth is expected to be 1.6% in 2019 and 2020 and is anticipated to strengthen to 2.0% in 2021.

Inflation has remained at roughly the Bank’s target of 2%, and is expected to continue at that pace.

Also from the MPR: “The level of housing activity remains solid across most of Canada, although recent indicators suggest that residential investment growth has slowed from its previously strong pace. Demand remains robust in Quebec, where the labour market has been strong. In Ontario and British Columbia, population growth is boosting housing demand. In contrast, Alberta’s housing market continues to adjust to challenges in the oil and gas sector. Nationally, house prices have continued to increase and should strengthen slightly in the near term, consistent with the responses to the Bank’s recent Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations.”

Bottom Line: The Canadian dollar sold off on the release of this statement and I believe there is a downside risk to the Bank of Canada forecast. Today’s release is a more dovish statement than last month, showing less confidence in the outlook. The Governing Council did express concern that the recent weakness in growth could be more persistent than their current forecast, saying that “the Bank will be paying particular attention to developments in consumer spending, the housing market, and business investment.” They also raised estimates of slack in the economy and dropped language about the current rate being appropriate.

According to Bloomberg News, today’s Governing Council comments “are a departure from recent communications in which officials sought to accentuate the positives of an economy that had been running near capacity and was deemed resilient in the face of global uncertainty. While Wednesday’s decision still leaves the Bank of Canada with the highest policy rate among major advanced economies, markets may interpret the statement as an attempt to, at the very least, open the door for a future move.”

6 Sep

Bank of Canada Holds Overnight Rate Steady Amid Uncertainty

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The Bank of Canada held the target overnight rate at steady at 1.75% for the seventh consecutive decision date but will monitor closely the impact of the US-China trade war on economic activity around the world and in Canada. The second-quarter growth–posted at 3.7%–exceeded the Bank’s forecast in the July Monetary Policy Report (MPR), but the Bank expects the economy to slow from that pace in the second half of the year.

Q2 was boosted by stronger energy production and robust export growth, both recovering from a weak Q1 performance. But evidence suggests that export growth slowed in July and could weaken further as the global economy slows. Canada bears the brunt of Chinese trade restrictions on Canadian agricultural imports. Housing activity also boosted the expansion in the second quarter as resales and housing starts picked up. Falling longer-term interest rates have driven down mortgage rates. The Bank asserted that “this could add to already-high household debt levels, although mortgage underwriting rules should help to contain the buildup of vulnerabilities.”

Wages picked up further last quarter, boosting labour income, yet consumption spending was unexpectedly soft. Canadian consumer confidence recorded its most significant monthly drop this year in August amid growing concerns about the global economic outlook. The setback reflects waning optimism about Canada’s economy and effectively reverses the pick-up in sentiment earlier this summer.

The deterioration in confidence coincides with the escalation of the U.S.-China trade war. Many Canadians increasingly worried they’ll soon feel a bigger impact. Consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the uncertainty as business investment weakened sharply in the second quarter. Trade tensions have hit farmers and manufacturers hardest. The U.S. implemented additional tariffs on China September 1 and have slated more on December 15. These include duties on clothing and electronics, will pinch US consumers where it hurts, in the pocketbooks. These moves will sideswipe Canada.

Despite all of this gloom, the central bank held off from signalling explicitly any immediate need to cut interest rates. While growth has been stronger than expected, inflation has remained on target.

“In sum, Canada’s economy is operating close to potential and inflation is on target. However, escalating trade conflicts and related uncertainty are taking a toll on the global and Canadian economies,” the central bank said in its statement. “In this context, the current degree of monetary policy stimulus remains appropriate.”

Market Interest Rates Are Tumbling

The Bank prefers to wait for more concrete evidence that the economy is in need of additional stimulus. Despite this, market interest rates have fallen to record lows in Canada and elsewhere and the yield curve is inverted. Government of Canada 5-year yields have slid from 1.85% to 1.15% this year, an incredible 38% decline. Ten-year returns are down from 1.92% to 1.13% (lower than the 5-year yield), and the 30-year bond yield has plunged from 2.13% to 1.40%.

Short-term interest rates are higher than longer-term yields. The overnight rate, controlled by the Bank of Canada, is 1.75%–well above all of these long-term yields. The 3-month bill rate is at 1.62%, almost 50 basis points higher than the 5-year yield.

The posted mortgage rate is the qualifying rate for mortgage borrowers. It has barely moved this year, down only 15 basis points to 5.19%. Its stickiness at elevated levels has prevented many borrowers from taking advantage of today’s low contract mortgage rates.

Mortgage Rates Have Fallen Even More Than Bond Yields

According to Rate Spy, the best high-ratio 5-year fixed mortgage rate is at 2.25%, down 94 basis points from the 3.24% rate posted at the beginning of the year. Conventional high-ratio 5-year fixed mortgage rates are down 95 bps and refinance 5-year fixed rates have fallen 118 bps. Much of this phenomenon might be lenders playing catch-up as they were slow to cut fixed rates when interest rates began to fall at the end of last year.

6 Sep

Bank of Canada Balks at Joining the Global Rate-Cutting Trend

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The Bank of Canada resisted pressure from investors by declining to signal it will soon follow global peers in easing monetary policy.

At a decision Wednesday, policy makers left interest rates unchanged for a seventh straight meeting and said stronger than expected growth, as well as inflation on target, means current levels of stimulus are where they should be. That’s despite the escalating trade war between China and the U.S. undermining global economic momentum.

The Bank of Canada’s reluctance to signal a greater willingness to cut rates — which makes it an outlier as counterparts around the world ease policy — may come as a surprise to some investors and analysts who had expected more dovish language and some easing later this year. The Canadian dollar rose after the statement.

“This is a bit more hawkish than we anticipated,” said Brett House, deputy chief economist at Bank of Nova Scotia. It’s “not a clear change in bias. It doesn’t close the door on an October cut, but it doesn’t set up an October cut either.”

Wednesday’s narrative underlined trade risks and reiterated that Canadian growth is likely to slow in the second half of this year — all of which suggests policy makers are far from confident about the economic outlook and could be keeping the door open for increasing stimulus if things worsen.

Global Easing

But the net effect of the statement is a continuation — at least explicitly — of the central bank’s reluctance to show its hand on whether it plans to join other central banks like the Federal Reserve in easing policy, preferring instead to wait for more concrete signs of weakness before moving.

“In sum, Canada’s economy is operating close to potential and inflation is on target. However, escalating trade conflicts and related uncertainty are taking a toll on the global and Canadian economies,” the central bank said in its statement. “In this context, the current degree of monetary policy stimulus remains appropriate.”

The Canadian dollar rose 0.4% to C$1.3280 per U.S. dollar at 10:09 a.m. Swaps trading suggests investors are fully pricing in a cut by December, with strong odds of a second by this time next year. That’s still less than the four rate cuts priced by the Federal Reserve over that time.

“The Bank of Canada is stalling but it will eventually be peer-pressured into interest-rate cuts,” Frances Donald, chief economist at Manulife Investment Management Ltd., told BNN Bloomberg.

Waiting too long is a risky strategy that could backfire if policy makers are late to recognize spillover effects on businesses and households, particularly since the country’s outlier status on policy could fuel gains in the Canadian dollar.

Bank of Canada officials said they will pay close attention to “global developments and their impacts on the outlook for Canadian growth and inflation.”

The case for cheaper money isn’t as compelling in Canada as it is elsewhere. A strong run of economic data affords the Bank of Canada opportunity to resist — as it has so far — the dovish turn in global policy.

Interest rates also remain stimulative in real terms, and borrowing costs have already declined sharply in the country because of falling global bond yields — a development the Bank of Canada cited in its statement. But escalating tensions between China and the U.S. are getting tougher to overlook. Trump’s tariffs on imports from China have already become a major reason behind global factory weakness.

The Bank of Canada characterized Canadian second quarter growth of 3.7% annualized as “strong” but noted some of the strength was probably temporary and pointed out that consumption spending was unexpectedly soft.

19 Aug

Hoping for an interest rate cut? You might have a long wait

General

Posted by: John Dunford

In the current climate of political tension and trade disputes there are no certainties and the global economy is looking increasingly fragile, but while many central banks are cutting rates, the BoC looks set to stand firm.

A panel of economists polled by Bloomberg suggests that Governor Poloz and his team will resist the growing trend for rate cuts and keep Canada’s overnight rate at 1.75%.

And they are not just expecting that to be the case in the short term; most believe there will be no change in interest rates until the end of 2020 at the earliest.

Canada’s economy is faring well and providing some expectation-beating results, helping to inform the economists’ view that a change of policy is less likely.

“Poloz will need to see a substantial weakening in domestic data before the bank changes its stance,” Dominique Lapointe, an economist at Laurentian Bank, told Bloomberg. “The extent to which global tensions translate into lower business investment and exports in Canada has yet to be seen.”

Rate cut?

Nine of the 15 economists polled by Bloomberg are forecasting a hold-steady on rates until the end of 2020 with those from some leading Canadian banks – including TD, BMO, Laurentian, and National Bank – most optimistic of that.

The other six economists believe there will be a rate cut in the next year as global demand pressures Canadian exports and the risk of weakening investment grows.

RBC and CIBC economists both expect an interest rate cut in the first quarter of 2020 while Capital Economics is calling for a 1% rate by the end of next year.

11 Aug

Jobs Stall for Second Month In A Row, But Wage Growth Surges

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The booming labour market in Canada seems to have vanished, at least for now, as employment declined and the unemployment rate rose again in July. Whether it is the summer doldrums, a trained worker shortage or the beginning of a slower second-half economy is yet to be seen. But the news is troubling in the wake of the accelerating trade tensions between China and the US. The US-Sino trade war has already sideswiped Canada, and President Xi Jinping does not face an election. He is not backing down, despite threats of a 10% additional tariff on all Chinese imports to the US. Trump’s response to denounce China as a currency manipulator has no teeth, raising doubts of the White House claim that trade wars are easy to win.

Agriculture and manufacturing in Canada, China, the US and the rest of the world have already been hard hit. Businesses spending on capital equipment and software has slowed dramatically in the face of so much uncertainty. The global economy has slowed, and bond yields around the world have fallen sharply as money is moving to the safe havens of government bonds and gold. Yield curves in Europe and the US are now inverted, which is often a sign of coming recession.

In Canada this week, the 10-year government bond yield fell to 1.22% compared to 1.58% one month ago and 2.33% one year ago. The 5-year bond yield is also at 1.22%, down a whopping 14 basis points in one week. The best 5-year fixed mortgage rate has now dropped to roughly 2.30%, although borrowers still have to qualify at the Bank of Canada posted rate of 5.19%.

Consumer spending has held up, and housing activity is strengthening in Canada and the US. But if the economy slows and job markets weaken further, it is only a matter of time before households tighten their belts.

Canada’s labour market lost 24,200 jobs in July according to Statistics Canada, versus expectations for a gain of 15,000. That follows a decline of 2,200 jobs in June. The unemployment rate rose to 5.7%, a second monthly increase after reaching a 40-year low of 5.4% in May. Hours worked on a year-over-year basis slowed sharply, and the number of people employed by private sector companies plunged by the most since the last recession.

One of the few positive signs was accelerating wages, with hourly pay up 4.5% in July from a year ago (see chart below). That’s the most robust annual pay rise in a decade. Another area of strength was the construction sector, which recorded a 25,000 gain in employment.

Bottom Line: The disappointing jobs report and the broadening trade tensions will likely spur the notion that a Bank of Canada rate cut is coming. Accelerating wages might delay such a move. But if the global economy continues to slow, the Bank might add its name to the very long list of central bank rate cuts, which now includes the Fed. What has changed from my view just last week that the BoC would be on hold for the rest of the year is the widening trade war and the back-to-back slowdown in our jobs market.

 

2 Aug

The Fed’s Quarter-Point Rate Cut Not the Start of Something Big

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) cut the overnight target rate by 25 basis points as expected today. Chairman Jerome Powell, however, said it was designed to “insure against downside risks” rather than to signal the start of multiple rate cuts. President Trump called for “large” rate cuts on Twitter and has for months pressured the Fed to ease monetary policy. It is very unusual for the Fed to cut interest rates in the face of the continued strength in the US economy and the enormous declines in unemployment.

I cannot remember a reversal of policy with so little impetus. Indeed, the opening sentences of the FOMC statement are, “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that the labor market remains strong and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low.”

The White House pressure is without precedent to the point that Trump publically threatened to demote Chairman Powell if the Fed didn’t cut rates. He also proposes to fill vacant seats with known rate doves. This infringement on Fed independence is very dangerous for the credibility of the central bank. Moreover, it will likely weaken the US dollar if additional rate cuts follow quickly.

Consumer spending remains strong; however, a slowdown in business fixed investment was caused by the President’s insistence on generating trade tensions with China, Canada, the UK and other trading partners. The global economy has slowed because of this uncertainty. China’s economy has decelerated significantly, and manufacturing and agricultural exports to China have been particularly hard hit.

Another issue of concern to the FOMC was the low level of inflation. The Fed targets a 2% inflation rate. The Fed’s favourite inflation measure is now running at about 1.4%-to-1.6%.

Two Federal Reserve Bank governors voted against this action preferring at this meeting to maintain the prior target range. It was the first time since Powell took over as chairman in February 2018 that two policymakers dissented.

Today’s action was the first interest rate cut since the financial crisis began more than a decade ago. The Fed started to normalize interest rates from historically low levels in 2015 as the US economy was recovering and continued to raise the fed funds rate until December 2018. Normalization of monetary policy also included the gradual shrinking of the Fed’s balance sheet–selling bonds into the marketplace, slowly reducing liquidity. Today, the Fed stated it would cease this activity as of tomorrow, rather than the planned date in September.

Bottom Line: The Bank of Canada will not follow the Fed. Canadian interest rates are already below those in the US. While the target range for the US fed funds rate is now 2%-to-2.25%, the target overnight rate in Canada is 1.75%. Moreover, today’s real GDP report for May surprised on the high side, suggesting that GDP growth in the second quarter could be close to 3%. This is well above the Bank’s earlier estimate and justifies the Bank’s remaining on the sidelines.

2 Aug

Fed Announces Interest Rate Decision

General

Posted by: John Dunford

The Federal Reserve reduced interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis and hinted it may cut again this year to insulate the record-long U.S. economic expansion from slowing global growth.

Central bankers voted, with two officials dissenting, to lower the target range for the benchmark rate by a quarter-percentage point to 2%-2.25%. The shift was predicted by most investors and economists, yet will disappoint President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday he wanted a “large cut.’’

“In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the committee decided to lower’’ rates, the Federal Open Market Committee, led by Jerome Powell, said in a statement following a two-day meeting in Washington. It also noted that “uncertainties” about the economic outlook remain.

Officials also stopped shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet effective Aug. 1, ending a process that very modestly tightens monetary policy and was previously scheduled to come to a close at the end of September.

Policy makers appeared open to another cut as early as September when they next convene, while sticking with wording in their statement that preserves their options.

“As the committee contemplates the future path of the target range for the federal funds rate, it will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” they said.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston’s Eric Rosengren voted against the cut. The statement said they “preferred at this meeting to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate.” It was the first time since Powell took over as chairman in February 2018 that two policy makers dissented.

Investors had forecast the Fed to continue easing monetary policy this year, with futures pricing the key rate to fall about another half-point by January. U.S. stocks rose to a record last week in anticipation of easier money, while the yield on two-year Treasuries has undershot 2% since May.

While the domestic economy has performed relatively well, the Fed cut amid concern that softness abroad threatens the decade- long U.S. expansion. Trump’s trade war with China is hurting foreign demand. Data released earlier Wednesday showed the pace of quarter-over-quarter growth in the euro area slowed by half in the latest three months to 0.2%.

In the U.S., after growing 2.5% last year, fuelled by now-fading tax cuts and higher government spending, the economy expanded at a 2.1% annualized pace in the second quarter. The trade dispute was blamed for a manufacturing slowdown and the first drop in business investment since 2016.

In their assessment of the US economy, officials made only minor changes to their statement language.

Powell has repeatedly said the Fed’s “overarching goal’’ is to keep growth going. Acting now, when the central bank has less room to pare rates than in past downturns, is partly aimed at getting ahead of any potential slump.

Lacklustre inflation also offered the Fed space and reason to ease. Its preferred price gauge, excluding food and energy, rose 1.6% in June from a year earlier and hasn’t met the Fed’s 2% target this year.

Trump is unlikely to be satisfied as he puts the economy at the heart of his re-election bid. He has broken with convention and undermined the Fed’s political independence by lobbying it to loosen policy and publicly questioning his nomination of Powell as chairman.

At his press conference, Powell will almost certainly be asked if the Fed buckled to that pressure. He may also be quizzed on whether the Fed, if requested, would join the U.S. Treasury in any effort to weaken the dollar given Trump’s complaints about the currency’s value.

Limited Scope

While Trump and some investors wanted the Fed to be more aggressive, its scope for doing so is limited. Stocks are high, unemployment is around the lowest in a half-century and consumers continue to spend. At the same time, a measure of business in the Chicago region fell this month to the lowest since late 2015.

The rate reduction was the first since December 2008 when the Fed dropped its benchmark effectively to zero as it battled recession and financial crisis. It began raising borrowing costs in December 2015, doing so another eight times. Officials indicated as recently as December they intended to continue to hike this year.

They dumped that plan in January as financial markets fretted monetary policy had become too restrictive.

Fellow central banks are set to follow the Fed. Those in India, South Africa and Australia are among those to have cut this year. The European Central Bank has indicated it will do so in September.

A worry for policy makers is that a decade of easy money leaves them short of ammunition for fighting a serious downturn. That likely means governments will face demands to do more if economies keep struggling.