How to tell when the Fed will raise interest rates

Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen holds a news conference following a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee at the Fed on June 17, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen holds a news conference following a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee at the Fed on June 17, 2015 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

At the latest meeting on Wednesday, the US central bank's policy-making Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) didn't offer clear hints in its statement of whether or not they will raise the main US interest rate when they next meet on Sept 16 and 17, as many economists expect.

That fits with the Federal Reserve's mantra of data-dependence. Its chief Janet Yellen has said the Fed will raise its target rate, known as the federal funds rate, when the US economy gives signs that it's ready.

It also means Fed-watchers must hone in on key economic reports to catch the signals that Wednesday's meeting didn't offer. Here are the crucial reports:

1. GDP

When it's coming: July 30, final figures: Aug 27

What to watch for: Fed officials are looking for a sign that output recovered in the second-quarter after a 0.2 per cent slump in the first quarter. Economists are expecting a 2.5 per cent gain in the April-June quarter.

2. US wages

When it's coming: July 31, Aug 7 and Sept 4

What to watch for: A sustained wage pickup will signal that the US labour market is healed and tightening, giving workers bargaining power, and can be a sign of coming inflation. Analysts are looking for a 0.6 per cent pickup in the Employment Cost Index, which details changes in the costs of labour for businesses, for the second quarter. That would come after a 0.7 per cent gain in he first quarter.

There's also average hourly earnings data coming on Aug 7 and Sept 4.

3. Inflation

When it's coming: Aug 3 and 28 for the personal consumption expenditures price index, the Fed's preferred inflation gauge; Aug. 19 and Sept. 16: for the consumer price index

What to watch for: Rising inflation numbers will signal a stronger economy. The Fed is hoping inflation will show signs of moving up toward its 2 per cent goal, which it has persistently undershot. The last measure was just 0.2 per cent in May.

4. FOMC minutes

When it's coming: Aug 19

What to watch for: Insight into how the Fed is interpreting inflation and other economic data is expected from the minutes of Wednesday's FOMC meeting. The statement itself gave few clues, making going through the minutes to come with a fine-toothed comb all the more important.

5. Employment data

When it's coming: Aug 7 and Sept 4

What to watch for: The FOMC painted a sunny picture of a healing job market in its Wednesday's statement, saying that just "some" further improvement to warrant a rise in interest rates. Some analysts said the addition of the word "some" was the strongest indication yet that the Fed was creeping closer to a rate rise. So they do not expect the monthly payroll numbers to shock on the downside.

Source: Bloomberg