Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chances of a Rate Cut Are Better Than you Think

With the Fed wrapping up its two-day meeting, investors are betting on the outcome. Conventional wisdom is calling for no change in interest rates. Indeed, CBOT futures are pricing in a 98% probability that the Fed will stand pat and just a 2% probability that it will cuts rates by a quarter point.

I believe chances for a rate reduction are higher than the numbers indicate. I am convinced the Fed is seriously concerned about the housing market. Fed officials are fully aware that higher rates at the longer-end of the yield curve could accelerate the pace of mortgage defaults and foreclosures. The sub-prime market has already been hit. If troubles spread to the alt-A and prime markets, the economy would easily be thrown into recession.

So is the Fed willing to risk a little inflation in order to prevent a housing meltdown? Inflation is currently running a bit higher than the Fed's so-called comfort zone. That's why many investors believe the Fed won't cut. But inflation is still quite low by historical standards. As a result, the Fed can feel comfortable about cutting rates at this time. A rate cut, however, would scare the markets and could result in a significant sell-off because it would send the message that recession is a likely possibility.

Of course, like most investors, I'm betting against a rate cut. Nonetheless, I won't be surprised if it happens today.