Two banks are betting on the US raising interest rates tomorrow

Jake Cordell
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Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen Gives Semiannual Monetary Policy Report To Senate Committee
Janet Yellen will unveil the Federal Reserve's latest decision on interest rates tomorrow evening (Source: Getty)

The world's most important central bank meets tomorrow to decide whether to raise interest rates for only the second time since the financial crisis.

This week is realistically the US Federal Reserve's last chance to change rates before the US election. While the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will meet just one week before the 8 November vote, the FOMC is unlikely to move so close to the big date and, moreover, they like to change policy only in months where they get their hands on the Fed staff's latest economic projections.

That means if they don't act to raise rates from their current target range of between 0.25 per cent and 0.5 per cent tomorrow - when those projections are also published - they will have to wait to December for the next round.

Despite rate-setters, including chair Janet Yellen, insisting the Fed could still move, markets aren't buying it. Futures prices on overnight interest rate swaps - a guess on what the Fed's rate will be on any given day - indicate just a 20 per cent chance of a rate rise. Earlier this year the chances of a hike at - or before - the September FOMC meeting touched 90 per cent.

GDP figures have been weak, recent jobs figures have been volatile and disappointing, while manufacturing output and inflation have remained low - all combining to push the chances of a rate hike down.

However, that hasn't stopped some, including two of the biggest financial institutions in the world, betting on a move. According to Bloomberg, investment banking teams at both Barclays and BNP Paribas are going against the grain and predicting the Fed will act.

Both of the banks are listed on the Fed's 23-strong list of preferred bond-trading partners, giving them premier status in the US financial system. It is the first time more than one dealer has gone against the consensus view since 12 months ago, when the Fed - and the markets - were again divided on whether the FOMC would hike rates in either September or December.

Laura Rosner of BNP Paribas explained the reason behind her firm's dissent to Bloomberg: "There is no perfect time, there will always be some uncertainties in the data.

"Despite a multitude of shocks through the last nine months, which have delayed the Fed, hiring has continued to be robust. There is a window of opportunity for the Fed to continue normalising, and we think it’ll take it."

Barclays added: "This is the first time we've been so far out of consensus. We've kept our conviction on September because we think that's what the FOMC has communicated to us."

Despite the bullish comments, both banks said the decision would be a close call.