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SIFMA Economic Panel Trims Outook for Growth, Inflation

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The economy and inflation will grow at slightly lower rates in 2017 than were expected at the end of last year, according to the latest economic outlook from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s roundtable of economists.

The roundtable, comprising economists from 25 banks and brokerages, now anticipates that GDP will grow at 2.1% year-over-year this year, slightly less than the 2.2% it forecast at year-end 2016. Its inflation forecast for the personal consumption expenditures index (PCE) is now 1.8%, down from 1.9% previously.

(Related: It’s a ‘Goldilocks’ Economy, Merrill Survey Finds) 

“The economy remains poised to expand at an above-trend rate because past headwinds in the form of a stronger dollar, excessive inventories and plunging energy investment have effectively abated if not reversed,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, in a statement.

The roundtable issued a mixed outlook for the 2017 job market, lowering its unemployment rate forecast to 4.4% from 4.7% previously but trimming its forecast for job creation to a 2.1 million increase in payrolls from 2.2 million previously. It forecast 1.8 million new jobs in 2018. The last unemployment rate reported for the U.S. economy was 4.3% for May.

What happens next for the economy will depend on these three factors, in descending order of importance: business confidence, U.S. fiscal policy and Federal Reserve rate moves, according to the SIFMA roundtable.

Fed policymakers meet Tuesday and Wednesday and, according to Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, the roundtable expects they will hike rates 25 basis points, and then again in September or December.

The Fed policy statement or press conference by its chairwoman, Janet Yellen, could also include hints about plans to trim the Fed’s balance sheet, which includes more than $4 trillion worth of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, said Ryan, who spoke on a conference call with reporters. The Fed had purchased those securities during the financial crisis as part of its quantitative easing policy to invigorate the economy.

“It’s important for the Fed to get moving on tapering,” said Ryan.

In the minutes of the last Fed meeting, policymakers favored a staff approach that would reduce reserves “in a gradual and predictable manner” by setting increasing caps on the amount of securities the Fed could hold monthly, resetting those caps every three months. Only the amounts exceeding the caps would be reinvested; the rest would be allowed to run off. As the Fed releases more of those securities into the market, bond yields could rise, said Ryan.

The roundtable has a median forecast of 2.43% for the 10-year Treasury yield in this month; 2.7% in December, 2.8% in March 2018 and 2.9% next June.

As for U.S. fiscal policy, the panel of economists is “unconvinced that the administration would be able to make any meaningful policy changes in the near term,” though one economist is quoted as saying that while “broad tax reform is unlikely … lower tax rates are still powerful.” Nearly one-third of the panelists said tax policy has the greatest chance of enactment; only one was optimistic about infrastructure policy. 

Also possible, according to the panel, is financial regulatory reform, especially changes to the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, “the most likely candidate,” but not before mid-2018.

Well before then, Congress has to address the debt ceiling because the Treasury will run out of borrowring room in October or November, said Ryan.

Probably the most bullish item in the SIFMA outlook isits forecast for capital spending by companies. The panel of economists forecast a 4.4% increase in business capital investment for the full 2017 year, up from 2.7% in its last outlook.

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