December 14, 2016 / 6:02 AM / a year ago

Fed set to hike rates, policy outlook now hinges on Trump presidency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve will conclude its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday afternoon with an interest rate increase all but assured and will issue new forecasts assessing whether the economic outlook has changed since the U.S. election.

A police officer keeps watch in front of the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The latest policy statement and projections are to be released at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) with a press conference by Fed Chair Janet Yellen following at 2:30 p.m.

Markets are poised for the federal funds rate to rise to a target range of between 0.5 and 0.75 percent from the current range of 0.25-0.5 percent, where they have rested since the Fed approved its last rate increase a year ago.

Of more significance is the backdrop of the meeting. After years of the Fed fretting about low interest rates and weak inflation, the weeks since Donald Trump’s victory have seen both bond yields and inflation expectations start to rise. The Dow Jones industrial average is up more than 11 percent since the vote.

Details of policymakers’ new economic assessments, the first since the election, will be dissected closely to see if policymakers yet feel the arrival of the Trump administration has shifted the economic outlook or poses a risk of greater inflation. The president-elect has said he wants a major tax cut and infrastructure spending program, even as the economy approaches full employment and wages are rising.

“Inflation risks are more significant than they were three months ago,” when the policymakers issued their last forecasts, sad Northern Trust chief economist Carl Tannenbaum. “Rates could well rise more than anticipated.”

Despite the changed circumstances, it is not certain the Fed will budge on its assessments. The median forecast of policymakers as of September was for two interest rate increases in 2017, an outlook Tannenbaum and many analysts feel may remain the case.

Trump has not yet taken office, and any proposals would have to clear a Republican-controlled Congress that may be stricter about increasing public debt than Trump. In recent public appearances some Fed officials have said they see a chance Trump’s policies may force them to speed the pace of rate increases, yet also said they are hesitant to change their outlook before he shares more details.

“Investors who are looking for clarity may be disappointed,” said David Donabedian, chief investment officer of Atlantic Trust Private Wealth Management.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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