Reuters Poll: Payrolls, Brexit Keep Dealers Split on Fed Rake Hike Path

Jul 8 2016 | 9:31pm ET

(Reuters) - Wall Street's top banks were almost evenly split over whether the Federal Reserve would raise U.S. interest rates in 2016, with a poll following Friday's strong jobs data showing a razor-thin majority expect the central bank to raise rates once by the end of the year.

Eight of 15 of primary dealers, or firms that do business directly with the Fed, said the central bank would lift its target interest rate by 0.25 percentage point by the end of the year. While the result was little changed from the previous survey on June 15, the question on Wall Street now was not whether the Fed could manage one or two rate hikes, but whether it could pull off even one.

For those who thought the Fed would not raise rates this year, the key factor was overseas risk that could hurt the U.S. economy, namely fallout from Britain's June 23 vote to leave the European Union, known as Brexit.

The government said on Friday U.S. employers added 287,000 workers last month, the most since last October, improving sharply on a stunningly meager 11,000 gain in May and handily beating a forecast 175,000 increase.

"They don't want to over-react to one set of payrolls, good or bad. Then, you have Brexit," said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Wells Fargo is one of the 23 primary dealers.

None of the primary dealers surveyed expected the Fed would raise its current 0.25-0.50 percent target range on the federal funds rate at the Fed's July and September policy meetings.

The fed funds rate is the overnight cost for banks to borrow excess reserves from each other.

Economists at the top Wall Street firms said the Fed would stick to a gradual path on raising rates, if the economy and the jobs market show further improvement.

In the latest Reuters survey, the median view on the fed funds rate range midpoint was 0.88 percent at the end of 2017, which is only half a point higher than current level.

"There's a relief to see this payback (in payrolls) and quite a robust one at that. That said, we are still running at a slower pace than a year ago," said Michelle Meyer, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. "There's not a sense of urgency for the Fed to raise rates."

Amid this uncertain outlook, interest rates traders see a mere one in five chance the Fed would increase its policy rate by the end of the year, according to CME Group's FedWatch program.

The surprise outcome of the Brexit referendum triggered a dramatic sell-off in stock markets worldwide. However, global share prices have recouped most of their losses since, and Friday's upbeat U.S. jobs report propelled the Standard & Poor's 500 briefly to a record high.

Meanwhile, fears of Brexit's repercussion on the global economy have spurred an investor stampede into U.S. Treasuries, German Bunds and other low-risk government debt, sending their yields to historic lows.

Eight of 12 dealers said Brexit has increased the chances of a U.S. recession in the next 12 months, but on average, they saw a 20 percent probability of an economic downturn, unchanged from the June 15 poll.

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