The Fed moved as expected by raising the federal funds rate by 25 basis points. This is the third Fed rate hike of 2018 and the eighth rate hike since the Fed started to raise rates in December 2015. Here’s that all important paragraph in today’s FOMC statement:
In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 2 to 2-1/4 percent.
This paragraph is shorter than it has been in the past. The Fed removed the sentence about monetary policy remaining accommodative.
The opening paragraph in the FOMC statement that describes the state of the economy is essentially the same as what was in the August FOMC statement. The word “strong” was used three times:
economic activity has been rising at a strong rate. Job gains have been strong. [...] Household spending and business fixed investment have grown strongly.
Just like all of this year’s FOMC meetings, today’s decision was unanimous. All FOMC participants voted in favor of the rate hike.
The Fed released its updated economic projections which include projections for the Fed funds rate in the form of the dot plot. The 2018 GDP projections were revised up from June. The Fed’s projections now show a 3.1% GDP change at the end of 2018, up from 2.8% from the June projections. For the end of 2019, the new projections show a 2.5% GDP change, up from 2.4% in June. The other economic numbers didn’t show an improvement for 2019 and 2020. Unemployment rate projections remain at 3.5% for 2019 and 2020. Also, core PCE inflation projections remain at 2.1% for 2019 and 2020.
In regards to the Fed funds rate projections, a large majority of the FOMC participants now anticipate four rate hikes for this year. Out of the 16 participants, 12 anticipate that the midpoint of the target range of the Fed funds rate will be 2.375%. That’s the midpoint for the range of 2.25% to 2.50%.
However, the Fed funds rate projections for 2019 and 2020 didn’t change from June. The projections still show a midpoint for the target range of the Fed funds rate of 3.1% for the end of 2019. That would require three 25-bps rate hikes in 2019 after one more 25-bps rate hike for this year. For 2020, the projections show a midpoint of 3.4%. That would require just one rate hike in 2020 after the 2018 and 2019 rate hikes as described above.
One positive change is an upward revision of the longer run Fed funds rate from 2.9% to 3.0%.
Fed Chair’s Press Conference
One of the questions Fed Chair Jerome Powell was asked was the significance of the removal of the accommodative language in the FOMC statement. Fed Chair Powell suggested that its removal wasn’t a big deal. Below is an excerpt of his answer to a reporter’s question on this issue:
Its useful life was over. We put that in the statement in 2015 just when we lifted off, and the idea was to provide assurance that we weren’t trying to slow down the economy, and in fact, interest rates were still going to support economic activity. Well, that purpose has been well served and the language now doesn’t really say anything that’s important to the way the committee is thinking about policy going forward. That’s why that came out.”
At the start of the press conference, Fed Chair Powell noted that 10 years have now passed since the depths of the financial crisis. I just noted that yesterday (September 25) was the 10-year anniversary of WaMu’s failure and its acquisition by JPMorgan Chase. It remains the largest bank failure in the nation's history. I reviewed this failure and its impact to depositors in my 2010 post on the two-year anniversary of WaMu’s closure.
Future FOMC Meetings
The next three FOMC meetings are scheduled for November 7-8, December 18-19 and January 29-30, 2019. The December meeting will include the summary of economic projections. Both the December and January meeting will include a press conference by the Fed Chair. Starting in 2019, all meetings will include a press conference.
What Savers Should Expect in 2018 and 2019
This year, online savings account rates have moved inline with the Fed funds rate. It is likely this will continue. Below shows how the major online savings and money market account rates have changed in the last four months. In June, the midrange of the target federal funds rate was increased to 1.875%. Since June, several of the major online banks have raised their savings accounts to be close to this. These include Goldman Sachs Bank USA (1.90% APY), Ally Bank (1.85% APY), Barclays (1.85% APY) and Synchrony Bank (1.85% APY). Thus, by the December FOMC meeting, we should see most of the major online banks with savings account rates above 2.00%.
- Sep 26: Federal Reserve Target Funds Rate: 2.00% to 2.25%
- Sep 19: Goldman Sachs Bank USA High-yield Savings: 1.90% APY
- Sep 19: Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings: 2.11% APY
- Sep 10: HSBC Direct Savings: 2.01% APY
- Sep 7: CIBC Agility Savings: 2.10% APY
- Sep 5: MySavingsDirect MySavings: 2.25% APY
- Aug 31: Ally Bank Online Savings: 1.85% APY
- Aug 31: Discover Bank Online Savings: 1.80% APY
- Aug 24: Capital One 360 Money Market: 1.85% APY, $10k+
- Aug 23: American Express National Bank High Yield Savings: 1.80% APY
- Aug 10: Vio Bank High YIeld Online Savings: 2.10% APY
- Aug 9: Goldman Sachs Bank USA High-yield Savings: 1.85% APY
- Aug 3: Ally Bank Online Savings: 1.80% APY
- Aug 2: FNBO Direct Online Savings: 1.85% APY
- Aug 1: Barclays Online Savings: 1.85% APY
- July 24: Synchrony High Yield Savings: 1.85% APY
- July 18: HSBC Direct Savings: 1.80% APY
- July 10: Capital One 360 Money Market: 1.75% APY, $10k+
- July 9: Citizens Access Online Savings: 2.00% APY, $5k+
- July 6: Discover Bank Online Savings: 1.75% APY
- July 2: Sallie Mae Bank Money Market: 1.90% APY
- June 29: Ally Bank Online Savings: 1.75% APY
- June 27: Barclays Online Savings: 1.75% APY
- June 25: CIBC Agility Savings: 1.90% APY
- June 22: Goldman Sachs Bank USA High-yield Savings: 1.80% APY
- June 22: American Express National Bank High Yield Savings: 1.75% APY
- June 15: Discover Bank Online Savings: 1.65% APY
- June 13: Federal Reserve Target Funds Rate: 1.75% to 2.00%
- June 11: FNBO Direct Online Savings: 1.75% APY
- June 5: Synchrony High Yield Savings: 1.75% APY
- May 30: PurePoint Financial Online Savings: 1.90% APY, $10k+
- May 25: Sallie Mae Bank Money Market: 1.75% APY
- May 24: CIT Bank Money Market: 1.85% APY
- May 15: Goldman Sachs Bank USA High-yield Savings: 1.70% APY
Right now, the top online savings account and money market rate is 2.25% APY, with five banks offering this.
The first bank to offer this rate nationwide was Northern Bank Direct in early June. The offer was a money market promotion with a 2.26% APY for up to $250k guaranteed through June 30, 2019. This didn’t last long. It ended on June 20th.
The first bank to offer 2.25% APY and maintain that rate was Northfield Bank. In late July, Northfield Bank increased the rate of its Online Platinum Savings Account to 2.25% APY for balances up to $100k.
MySavingsDirect is the first to offer a nationwide savings account with a 2.25% APY for all balances. That was first introduced on September 5th.
Based on this history, it is reasonable to expect a bank to offer 2.50% APY nationwide on a savings account or money market account in the next two months.
Lastly, don’t hold your breath for deposit rate hikes at your brick-and-mortar banks. As I showed in my recent rate trends chart, the average savings account rates at brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions remain low.
Deposit Account Strategies
Based on the Fed’s rate projections, it looks likely we’ll see at least four more Fed rate hikes before the end of 2019. And based on the recent rate history of online savings accounts, we’ll likely see online savings account rates to be around 100 bps higher a year from now.
The difficult question is how long-term rates will change in the next year. The top nationally-available 5-year CD yield is around 3.50%, which is 125 bps above the top savings account. That spread may shrink over the next year. We saw that back in 2006 and 2007 when top savings account rates were close to the top 5-year CD rates. Let’s say that spread shrinks from 125 bps to 75 bps. A year from now, top savings account rates may be around 3.25%, and the top 5-year CD rates may be around 4.00%.
One strategy for your safe money is to keep your money in top savings accounts, and wait for signs we’re at the top of the rate cycle. Then it would be the time to lock into long-term CDs. While the money is in savings accounts, you can keep an eye out for those hot CD deals. It’s important to remember that there could be surprises in future interest rates. Conditions can change fast, and we may not recognize the significance until rates have already responded.
This strategy makes it important to choose internet banks that have solid ACH transfer capabilities. If you find a hot CD deal or if your internet bank falls behind on rates, you’ll want to be able to easily and quickly move your money. You don’t want an internet bank that has small ACH transfer limits or slow ACH transfer speeds.
If you want to keep things simple for your safe money, CD ladders are a tried-and-true way to invest in CDs. The ladder ensures you take advantage of higher rates as interest rates rise. You may want to favor shorter-term CDs for your ladder. Top 5-year CD rates aren’t much higher than top 3-year and 2-year CD rates. However, beware of short-term CDs. At many internet banks, rates of CDs with terms of under one year continue to be well below savings account rates. These short-term CDs don’t make any sense. If you’re starting a CD ladder, don’t choose short-term CDs with rates under savings account rates.