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5 Alternative Gift Ideas that Don’t Come from a Toy Store

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents spent an average of $422 per child on holiday presents in 2016, according to a survey by T. Rowe Price. An estimated 56 percent of parents with children ages 8 to 14 use credit to purchase gifts, which are bound to include gadgets that’ll be old news by New Year’s but not paid off until months after that. 

Indeed, the holiday season — the most wonderful time of the year, as it’s known to some — may be far from wonderful for budgets as some parents try to fulfill every child’s every wish. 

2016 Experian holiday shopping survey found:  

  • 56 percent of people said they spend too much money during the holidays. 
  • 55 percent admitted that they feel stressed about their finances during the holidays. 
  • 43 percent said the extra expense makes the holidays hard to enjoy.  

Some parents overload their children with “stuff” that will quite possibly be obsolete or bested in popularity by the next big thing just in time for the next holiday season. No great mystery that the U.S. has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, but consumes 40 percent of the world’s toys. 

“We are a materialistic society, and often our rituals and celebrations reflect this,” says Dr. Mary Gresham, an Atlanta-based psychologist who specializes in financial and clinical psychology. “Many parents get caught up in this and start to believe that the right toy will bring happiness to their child.”  

Here are five gifts to give your little ones besides presents this year. Your overflowing closets and pockets may thank you for considering other gift options.  

The gift of a financial head start

You could get them a $50 toy that they’ll lose or break in a matter of weeks … or you could open an online investment account in your child’s name and teach them the beauty of investing.

And don’t worry if you’re not an expert.  

Brendan Mullooly, an investment adviser for an asset management firm in Wall Township, N.J., suggests that novice investors interested in making a financial gift to a young person should use a service like Stockpile, an online company that simplifies the process of gifting stocks to minors.  Check out our review here

“You can purchase gift cards of individual stocks and some index ETFs to give as a gift,” says Mullooly.

And Stockpile allows you to buy fractional shares, so the gift cards can be for small amounts.  Mullooly recommends setting up view-only access to these custodial accounts so your young investor can check on how the investments are doing.  

“This offers a great way to give a gift that’s interesting, has monetary value, and also offers an educational aspect,” he says. 

The gift of giving

For children, the holiday season can be a “gimme” time of year. But it’s also the time when we often hear that it’s better to give than receive.  

Jayne Pearl, a family business and financial parenting expert and co-author of “Kids, Wealth and Consequences: Ensuring a Responsible Financial Future for the Next Generation, says it’s not hard to nurture a child’s giving spirit. She suggests combating the “gimmes” with the “givvies.”

Put part of your holiday budget toward giving to the less fortunate, perhaps through a charitable organization. For example, you could give a gift in your child’s name to an organization such as Unicef or the American Red Cross, or to an area animal shelter or humane society.  

“Giving kids the tools and the consciousness to try to help people is extremely empowering,” Pearl says.  

Her recommendation is to sit down with your children and find out what bothers them about the world, help them figure out how they can help, and make this part of your holiday celebration. Use the holidays as a time to teach your kids that “we have values and our values are not just ‘stuff,’ ” Pearl says.

The gift of membership

You can’t go wrong with season passes to a favorite destination like a local museum, an amusement park or the zoo. You can use them over and over throughout the year, which could ultimately help your family spend less on entertainment. 

Also, check out memberships to national organizations, like the Baseball Hall of Fame for the sports enthusiast. 

Or get a pass that’s fun for the whole family, like the $80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass, which pays for itself in as few as five visits to national parks. The pass covers entry to over 2,000 parks for a full year, and nearly 100 percent of sale proceeds goes toward improving and enhancing federal recreation sites.
 

The gift of travel

Pool the money you would spend on toys and trinkets and knock a destination off your family bucket list. You could time the trip to coincide with the holiday season or breaks during the school year.  

Erica Steed, 37, allowed her children to choose something they wanted to experience together in Christmas 2016. 

Ellison, who was 10, wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. Elian, 7, wanted to see snow, which doesn’t often happen in Georgia. They took a family trip to New York for the holidays, and although it didn’t snow, “we had such a great time that it made up for it,” says Steed, who lives in Roswell, Ga.

When you factor in the cost of airline tickets and lodging in New York City for a family of four during the holidays, this gift option didn’t save the Steeds the money they would’ve spent on presents.

But by planning, creating a budget and sticking to it, the family spent the holidays doing something they could all enjoy and remember for a lifetime. And this, Steed says, amounted to money well spent.  

The gift of learning

You know your children better than anyone. And every one of them is unique, with his/her own set of interests, so give a gift that helps a child develop existing or new skills. 

Sign them up for classes that help them take their passion or hobby to the next level.  

Consider coding camp for your computer whiz or cooking classes for your foodie. You can find classes offered by educational institutions, community organizations, companies or individuals. 

You could also take a look at online classes like these from MasterClass, which can help your child hone a craft with a celebrity idol without leaving home. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Survey: Most Millennials Believe They’ll Become Wealthy Some Day

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

It seems like everyone has an opinion about millennials these days, but perhaps what they should be saying is that they are confident and optimistic. MagnifyMoney has surveyed more than 1,000 Americans on their views about wealth, and we found that millennials have a remarkably positive outlook when it comes to the subject.

Compared to the other generations surveyed, millennials are much more likely than older generations to believe that they’ll become wealthy someday. Whether this comes from youthful exuberance, wishful thinking or a healthy attitude toward building wealth is not entirely clear. But what is clear are the striking generational perspectives on wealth revealed by our study.

Key findings:

  • Just over half (51%) of respondents believe they will one day become wealthy, despite only 15% saying that they already are. Millennials are even more confident, with 66% saying they think they will become wealthy in the future.

  • Of those surveyed, 28% think acquiring real estate is the best wealth-building strategy. The stock market came in as the second most popular effective strategy at 19%, while only 4% think investing in cryptocurrency was a good way to build wealth.

  • There were generational differences of opinion on the best wealth-building strategy. Baby boomers are most likely to think real estate is the best way to build wealth, while millennials are more likely than any other generation to say investing in a business is the best wealth-building strategy. Generation X are the most likely to consider the stock market as their top strategy.
  • Unfortunately, 23% of Americans currently are not doing anything to build wealth. On the bright side, 36% are saving for retirement and 29% are investing in the stock market.

  • Millennials prefer to do things digitally. They are the generation most likely to utilize an online savings account. About 30% of millennials use one, compared to only 17% of baby boomers.
  • About 55% of Americans reported believing that being wealthy ultimately means having the ability to live comfortably without concern for their finances. Meanwhile, 43% defined it as feeling financially secure.

What are millennials doing to build wealth?

The two most popular strategies for wealth building among millennials are investing in real estate and in the stock market, but they’re hardly the only generation to take that approach. Across the board, real estate investing and the stock market were named as the two most popular investment strategies.

Still, both the real estate and stock market are subject to fluctuations, such as those seen during the Great Recession. According to a Gallup poll published in May 2019, during the Great Recession of 2008 to 2010, Americans were just as likely to name savings accounts or CDs as the best long-term investments, on par with stocks and real estate. As of 2019, the poll found that Americans currently view stocks and real estate as the best long-term investments.

Of course, this mindset could change quickly if another economic downturn hits. But for now, property owners have cause to celebrate. In 2018, home values were the highest on record, according to Gallup.

That same Gallup poll found that those who actually invest in stocks were more confident in the value of stocks as an investment, though stock ownership remains below pre-recession levels. Note that the S&P 500, which is considered a proxy for the stock market as a whole, has gained 9% per year on an annualized basis over the last decade — that return rises to an annualized gain of more than 11% per year when dividends are reinvested.

Hurdles to wealth building

But even if stock and real estate strategies can be effective, debt may still stand in the way of some millennials’ wealth-building efforts. Due to rising student debt burdens, it’s not uncommon for millennials to carry large amounts of debt.

According to Misty Lynch, a Boston-based resident certified financial planner (CFP) with the savings and investing app Twine, millennials may be too accustomed to debt. “Millennials are used to having debt and feel like it is just part of life,” Lynch said. “This sometimes hurts them if they continue to add to their debt without considering the long term impact.”

Lynch also noted that the glitz of social media can affect millennial finances: “Social media has changed the definition of wealth. It is easier to appear wealthy in this Instagram-era even if your bank account doesn’t back that up.”

Plus, although 66% of millennials believe they’ll someday become wealthy, the survey also revealed that 18% of millennials currently aren’t doing anything to build wealth. For millennials looking to start the process, saving for retirement is a great launching point. One suggestion from Cynthia Loh, vice president of Digital Advice and Innovation at Charles Schwab in Denver, is that if your employer offers a 401(k) plan, you should set up recurring contributions that deposit money from your paycheck. Plus, you should max out annual contributions if you can afford to. The potential match from an employer is an added bonus worth taking advantage of.

For those without access to a 401(k), consider checking out a robo-advisor, which can be great for newer investors. Most robo-advisors have low investment minimums, which makes it easy to start investing your money.

What does wealth mean for millennials?

More than other generations, millennials believe they can become wealthy some day. The survey found that 66% of millennials believe that they will become wealthy compared to only 25% of baby boomers.

As baby boomers are in the 54-72 year age range, their different perspectives make sense. Baby boomers are in the phase of their life where they either have already retired or are nearing the end of their career. They know their potential for wealth building is slowing down.

In general, younger generations seemed to be more optimistic. For instance, Gen Xers are more optimistic than baby boomers, and Generation Z seems to be even more hopeful than millennials.

Youthful optimism aside, perhaps millennials simply have a different definition of wealth than older generations. Across all generations surveyed, 55% said they thought the definition of being wealthy was being able to live comfortably without worrying about their finances. If you’re looking to quantify wealth, 20% of millennials (more so than any other generation) reported that they define being wealthy as having $500,000 or more; only 8 percent of baby boomers feel this way. Networth finds more common ground between millennials and baby boomers — almost 18 percent of both generations feel a networth of at least $1 million signifies wealth.

Andrea Woroch, a money saving expert from Bakersfield, California, thinks that mindset may just be the key to millennial’s future financial success.

“Thinking positively about your money is key toward building better financial habits,” Woroch said. “Ultimately, your thoughts influence your behavior which will lead to a desired outcome, so if you think you will be wealthy then you can start acting in accordance with this vision.”

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

In the survey, generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

Members of Generation Z (ages 18-21) and the Silent Generation (ages 73 and older) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the total percentages among all respondents. However, their responses are excluded from the charts and age breakdowns due to the smaller population size among our survey sample.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jacqueline DeMarco
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Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jacqueline here

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2019 Fed Meeting Predictions — Fed Cuts Rate for the Second Time this Year

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate at its September meeting. This move follows the July rate cut, which was the Fed’s first downward rate move in over a decade. These moves are designed to sustain the economy’s continued expansion by protecting against what the Fed sees as downside risks to the economy.

The Fed remains optimistic about the U.S economy’s outlook, but the question remains: will we see more cuts before the year’s end? Read on for our predictions for each upcoming Fed meeting and updates on what went down at the most recent conclaves.

What happened at the September Fed meeting

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) cut the federal funds rate, as expected. Fed funds took another 25 basis point tumble to 1.75% to 2.00%, and the committee once again cited “implications of global developments” and “muted inflation pressures” as the causes.

If you recall, this reduction seems to contradict Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s remarks back in July, when he was emphatic that July’s cut — the first in over a decade — was not the opening shot in a campaign of many reductions. Rather, he referred to it more as a “mid-cycle adjustment” and a protective response due to a few “downside risks” (weak global growth and trade uncertainties) to the otherwise strong economy.

As with the July meeting, there were dissenters on the committee. Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who had both voted against the July rate change, preferred to maintain the 2.00% to 2.25% range. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard also voted against the decision, although he really wanted a bigger, 50 basis point cut.

Chair Powell and the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) indicate a continued positive outlook for the U.S. economy. The Fed continues to acknowledge that the U.S. economy itself is still doing just fine; as Powell stated at today’s press conference, “we continue to see sustained expansion.”

“This has been our outlook for quite some time,” he added, despite significant changes in their views on the appropriate path of interest rates.

More specifically, the FOMC’s statement points to the continued strength of the labor market, moderate growth in economic activity, solid job gains, a low unemployment rate and strong household spending growth. The only downside seems to be weakened business fixed investment and exports — both of which can be explained by the ongoing trade conflict.

The SEP indicates that committee members now predict an infinitesimal increase in both the real GDP and the unemployment rate for 2019. The personal consumption expenditure (PCE) and Core PCE inflation projections remain unchanged from the June SEP — so inflation continues to be a non-event. Their future predictions for 2020 to 2022 and the longer run also remain relatively unchanged.

The Fed dot plot — which anonymously indicates each member’s federal funds rate prediction — shows a much lower and more cohesive outlook for 2019 when compared to June’s SEP. Undoubtedly as a result of rate cut double header, there are more low-rate predictions through 2022. The majority indicate a federal funds rate below 2% for this year and next year.

So how about that recession? The past few months have been clouded by a certain cognitive dissonance: The Fed’s positive economic outlook on one hand, and the public’s seeming obsession with an imminent recession on the other. If you were to look at just the data, you’d see an economy performing well. Of course, there’s more to it than that, as risks keep emerging and causing softness here and there.

Still, the “most likely case is continued moderate growth,” a widely shared projection among forecasters, according to Powell. And the reason for the continued positive outlook, Powell added, is the committee’s dedication to its mandates: “Our shifting to a more accommodative stance over the course of the year has been one of the reasons why the outlook has remained favorable.”

As for continued worries about the inverted treasury yield curve, Powell admitted that while the Fed certainly monitors the yield curve carefully, “there’s no one thing” that you can point to that undoubtedly means recession. Rather, Powell suggested, the inverted curve may be a result of the very risks the rate cut is intended to protect against.

“We don’t see a recession, we’re not forecasting a recession, but we are adjusting monetary policy in a more accommodative direction to try to support what is, in fact, a favorable outlook.”

Our September Fed meeting predictions

It certainly looks like the Fed may cut rates again at its September meeting. The 25 basis point (bp) cut in July — the first in over a decade — reduced the federal funds rate to 2.00% to 2.25%, and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) justified its move by saying it wanted to protect against “downside risks,” namely weak global growth and rocky trade policy negotiations. Due to the persistence of these risks in the interim, markets and economic experts are preparing for yet another 25 bps cut later this month, which would put the federal funds rate at 1.75% to 2.00%.

After the July meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell stated that he and the FOMC did not see the historic rate reduction as the first in a string of cuts. However, Powell spoke at the University of Zurich on Sept. 6, right before the FOMC’s pre-meeting silent period, and stated that the committee would “continue to act as appropriate” to protect the U.S. economy. The risks cited in July have not abated in September, so many have concluded it’s not too far-out to assume this signals another rate cut.

Economist and Fed-watcher Tim Duy agrees — and he thinks the cuts won’t end in September, either. “The Fed will cut rates 25bp next week and leave the door open for more,” he wrote.

We’ll get a look at the Fed’s newest Summary of Economic Projections this month. Every other Fed meeting brings the release of the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), which outlines each committee member’s outlook for the U.S. economy over the next couple of years and the longer term. These forecasts include GDP growth, inflation, unemployment and the federal funds rate. The SEP gives us a relative idea of what to expect from the economy in the future.

Relatedly, Powell should once again stress that we’re not on the verge of recession. While speaking in Zurich, Powell assured that the Fed’s “main expectation is not at all that there will be a recession.” He points to the U.S. economy’s continued expansion — “moderate growth, a strong labor market” and inflation, although muted, hovering around the 2% goal. He also reminded us that we’re now in the 11th year of an economic expansion. It is expected that Powell will use the post-meeting press conference, as he has done before, to address and dispel recession concerns.

That said, recession concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. Overall growth has slowed from its speedy pace in 2018, and the latest jobs report showed fewer new jobs in August. Further, the Treasury yield curve — a tool used to look at the future direction of interest rates and broader economic trends — has inverted recently. This phenomenon — where long-term Treasury interest rates fall below short-term Treasury rates — has historically indicated an upcoming recession. A yield curve inversion like this shows that markets are predicting lower rates in the future. However, there’s certainly room for prediction error; the curve inverted once before this year and it was not followed by an immediate recession.

Upcoming Fed meeting dates:

Here is the FOMC’s calendar of scheduled meetings for 2019. Each entry is tentative until confirmed at the meeting proceeding it. For past meetings, click on the dates below to catch up on our pre-game forecast and after-action report.

Our July Fed meeting predictions

Chances of a rate cut at the July meeting are way up. Committee Chair Powell all but confirmed the possibility in his recent testimony before Congress. “Since the June meeting, and even for a period before that, the data have continued to disappoint,” he said. As the Fed relies on jobs, manufacturing and wage data to help inform their policy decisions, disappointing data like what we’ve been seeing, provides a real justification of a rate cut.

However, the cut shouldn’t be anything more than 25 basis points. “The data doesn’t support a 50bp move,” maintains economist Tim Duy. Growth has certainly slowed in 2019, but June’s job reports provided a positive surprise, while wage growth still weakened.

Experts speculate that if the Fed does not cut rates this month, they will signal a rate cut to come in September instead. For one, Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren has vocalized that he thinks the economy is “quite strong” at the moment and doesn’t quite yet need Fed policy interference. Whether the rest of the FOMC agrees with him or not will be revealed next week.

We’ll hear more about the economy’s future as talk of an impending recession continues. Speculation about an upcoming recession has held steady since December 2018, when the Fed downgraded their economic outlook. Since then, growth has continued to slow, although a few positive surprises along the way have buoyed sentiment.

One recession indicator will be very clear if the Fed actually holds off on a rate cut this month. “Without a rate cut, the markets may consider the odds of a more significant slowdown as increasing,” said Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. One interpretation of the Fed not cutting rates yet would be a need to maintain an insurance policy against an impending economic slowdown. “Keep your powder dry” is a common saying, and no cut may mean the Fed wants to reserve it’s finite rate cutting policy tools to fight a recession later.

What happened at the July Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate by 25 basis points. After a six-month monetary policy pause, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has lowered the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to a range of 2.00% to 2.25%, a choice it maintains is “appropriate to sustain the expansion” of the economy.

The FOMC statement cites “implications of global developments” (such as trade conflict and Brexit) and “muted inflation pressures” as its chief reasons for the rate cut, also calling out softer growth in U.S. business fixed investment. On the other hand, the committee acknowledged the still-favorable parts of the U.S. economy, including the strong labor market, low unemployment and increased household spending.

At the press conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell underscored these good bits, stressing that “nothing in the U.S. economy that present a prominent, near-term threat,” while very pointedly calling out global risks, warning that the implications of these risks weigh heavily on the FOMC’s thinking.

As to whether these points signal more rate cuts, Powell was adamant that they do not. In reference to previous instances where mid-cycle rate cuts have evolved into rate cutting cycles, Powell said that “the Committee is not seeing that,” adding “that’s not our perspective … or outlook.”

The Fed maintained a positive outlook for the U.S. economy. Despite slower growth, the US economy has continued to grow, and Chair Powell made sure to emphasize the point in his press conference. “The Committee still maintains a favorable baseline outlook,” he said, continuing to stress the issue throughout.

Powell begs us not to take the rate cut as a signal of panic at the Fed. If you remember, Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren spoke on July 19 about his preference to wait to make any rate changes, “given that the economy is quite strong” and with inflation holding around 2%. In fact, Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther L. George were the two dissenters at the July meeting. Both indicated their preference to keep rates unchanged.

At the press conference, Powell doubled down on the rate cut as a safeguard from downside risks. He identified three threats the rate cut would protect against. First, weak global growth, namely in Europe and China. Secondly, weak domestic manufacturing. Third — a byproduct of risks one and two — is stubbornly muted inflation growth.

For some, however, the Fed rate cut is hardly justified, or is merely a fig leaf.

Ahead of the July meeting, University of Oregon economist Tim Duy proclaimed that “the December rate hike was simply a small mistake than needed to be rectified,” and he remained as emphatically critical in its wake. “All policy makers really know at this point is that they are navigating a mid-cycle course correction,” he wrote in Bloomberg.

The Fed’s reassurances of a positive economic outlook suggest a recession remains a distant threat, at best. We’ve seen consistent growth throughout this year, albeit at a slower pace than 2018. Plus, the Fed continues to keep a positive outlook for the U.S. economy. Any threats that are perceived now are the target of today’s rate cut, designed to continue the growth we’ve been seeing.

When asked about how cutting rates today would give the Fed little wiggle room to cut again when a recession hits, Powell was quick to shut down any assumption that one was impending. “In other cycles, the Fed wound up raising rates again after a mid-cycle adjustment,” he countered, quickly adding, however, that “I’m not predicting that.” Still, he leaves it open to the possibility of future rate hikes after this cut, rather than an overall downward turn.

Our June Fed meeting predictions

The Fed could signal a possible future rate cut. Chair Jerome Powell recently indicated the Fed’s willingness to cut rates, if necessary, in response to a bad outcome in trade negotiations, or data pointing to a weakening economy. This was the first time Powell had hinted at the possibility of monetary policy changes since the Fed chose to put an end to its rate hike streak back in January.

Economist Tim Duy points to the May jobs report, especially revisions to the prior months’ data, as another trigger for the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to foreshadow a possible rate cut. Job gains slowed in May, due to softer economic growth rather than a lack of workers. But Duy warns that the revisions indicate U.S. job growth has “slowed markedly” over the last four months, another worrying sign.

Note that there is practically zero chance of a rate cut at the upcoming June meeting. Instead, you should look for hints to a rate cut later in 2019. “I don’t think they’ll change the rate,” says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree. “Definitely not at this meeting. I’d be surprised if it happens before September.”

The Fed could soften their economic forecast. The June Fed meeting will bring the latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). Much like it sounds, this is where the FOMC updates their long-term forecast for economic performance over the next few years.

Kapfidze predicts we’ll see another downgraded SEP forecast. “I think they’ll come up with a softer forecast. It’s just a question of how soft,” he said. With the data coming in somewhat mixed and trade negotiations remaining highly unpredictable, Kapfidze said the Fed finds itself in a “delicate moment to get the pulse of the state of the economy.”

We should learn more about the Fed’s approach to their 2% inflation goal. At the April/May meeting, we learned that inflation for personal consumption expenditures — the Fed’s preferred measure of price changes — fell unexpectedly. This left many economists and experts concerned that the Fed was neglecting its mandate to keep inflation symmetrically around 2%.

“Perhaps inflation is not coming back as they anticipated,” Kapfidze muses. So while inflation is stable right now, it’s definitely still a concern.

What happened at the June Fed meeting

The Fed kept the federal funds rate steady… for now. The federal funds rate was left at 2.25% to 2.50%, as the Fed continues its rate pause. The Fed changed its tone by dropping its “patient stance” language, saying instead that it would “closely monitor the implications” given the “uncertainties about this outlook,” namely trade developments and global growth concerns.

In simpler terms, the FOMC felt the current data didn’t support a case for cutting rates right now. However, it does expect the economic climate to change in the next few months – possibly for the worse.

“The Committee wanted to see more [before making any changes],” said Fed Chair Jerome Powell at the post-meeting press conference. “I expect a full range of data, and that something will change before the next meeting.” Essentially, as these “uncertainties” become clearer, the Fed will adjust policy accordingly.

The dovish St. Louis Fed President James Bullard was the only dissenter to the policy decision, voting to lower the federal funds rate range by 25 basis points, while all others voted to maintain rates where they are.

A rate cut at the next meeting is by no means an inevitable conclusion. Most experts expected the Fed to signal that a rate cut was imminent. We didn’t get that strong of a sign.

The Fed’s latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) predicts no rate changes until 2020, keeping the projection for 2019 within the current range at 2.4%. The 2020 projection, however, dropped to 2.1%, which lies below the current lower limit of the rate range. It’s also well below the previous March projection for 2020 of 2.6%.

Still, Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, points to three signs that a rate cut is coming. “For one, at least eight Fed members projected a cut before the end of the year,” he shares. “Two, we saw one member already voting for a cut at this meeting. Three, the Fed removed the word ‘patient’ in their statement, instead calling out the uncertainties and risks.”

As for when the Fed might reduce rates, Kapfidze thinks the next Fed meeting in July is still too soon. “Perhaps September is more realistic.”

The SEP was stronger than expected. The Fed’s economic projections were little changed from its March outlook, again contradicting expert predictions of a softer outlook. Change in real GDP and the federal funds rate projections for 2019 matched the numbers in March, while the unemployment rate projection dropped by a single basis point for 2019.

In its statement, the FOMC points to strong labor market reports, low unemployment, higher household spending and overall moderate economic growth as support for a continued favorable baseline outlook.

That tricky problem with inflation remains. If you recall from last month’s meeting, inflation was the hot topic as the Fed was concerned about inflation continuing to fall short of its goal of 2%. This time around, the Fed again acknowledged that overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2%.

Chair Powell shared that the Committee points to uncertainties in global growth and trade negotiations as factors for muted inflation. Plus, the SEP gives us some additional insight, showing us that the Fed expects inflation to continue to run below target.

Still, Powell reiterated the Committee’s firm commitment to its inflation objective. He also stated that while inflation continues to run below target, the Committee expects it to pick back up thanks to solid growth and a strong job market, although “at a slower pace than had been expected.”

Our April/May Fed meeting predictions

The Fed should reaffirm their patient stance at the April 30/May 1 meeting, and may reiterate their view that stronger U.S. economic data is needed before they can make more policy changes. The Fed already said as much in its March meeting minutes, where it confirmed that “a majority of participants” agreed to leave “the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year,” due to the unsettled economic outlook. When considering rate changes, the Fed looks at job growth, wages, and inflation pressures; if the numbers meet the Fed’s parameters, rates stay unchanged, but if they are too hot or too cold, rates need to change. Inflation has been hovering around the Fed’s target of about 2%, and while both job growth and retail sales were points of concern due to low numbers since December, both measures have recovered somewhat in March economic data reports.

Without drastic changes to the data, there is little risk the Fed will be moving rates up (or down). As economist Tim Duy succinctly told MagnifyMoney, “We will not see a rate cut. I don’t think we will see much change in policy at all. It should be a boring meeting.”

About that economic outlook! Even if the Fed stays on pause, it seems like the latest data should tamp down talk of an upcoming recession. We’ve been hearing analysts and commentators talk about a possible recession since December, when the data showed a decline in economic indicators across the board. The cynicism really started to kick in when the Treasury yield curve began to invert, which can be (but isn’t always) a harbinger of recession. However, the stronger March jobs, retail and new home sales reports have lessened such concerns. Plus, the latest GDP report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows growth at an annual rate of 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019, exceeding economists’ predictions of 2.5% growth.

Tendayi Kapfidze, lead economist at LendingTree, said as much back in March ahead of that month’s Fed meeting: “Since the financial crisis, data in the first quarter has been coming in weak because of seasonal adjustment. Models that make this adjustment are skewed by this, but then everything can reaccelerate in following quarters.” Plus, on top of that adjustment, the government shutdown greatly affected reports in both their results and how they were measured.

On the whole, we’re still seeing an economy on the rise, not a decline — it’s just not growing quite as fast as it was in 2018.

What happened at the April/May Fed meeting

The Fed maintained their patient policy stance. The Fed left rates unchanged at 2.25% to 2.50%. The latest economic data has indicated some recovery in jobs and retail sales growth, while the unemployment rate remains low, as well. Plus, GDP grew 3.2% in the first quarter, exceeding expert economists’ predictions of 2.5%. This data supports the Fed’s outlook for a growing economy and its decision to keep interest rates unchanged.

What about the Fed’s inflation goal? This was the big question for Fed Chair Jerome Powell at his press conference following the FOMC meeting. Inflation for personal consumption expenditures — the Fed’s preferred measure of price changes — has been dropping for the past three months, with the first quarter coming in at 0.7%, below the committee’s 2% target. Powell did note that inflation “unexpectedly fell,” standing at 1.6% for the previous 12 months ending in March.

When asked about what signs the FOMC might see as a need to take action, Powell first answered, “We are strongly committed to our 2% inflation objective, and to achieving it on a sustained and symmetric basis,” a point he reiterated throughout the conference. “The Committee would be concerned if inflation were running persistently above or below 2%” he continued, also noting that what they are currently seeing does not indicate a persistent problem.

While policy remains on hold for now, economist Tim Duy has indicated that weak inflation numbers should still push the Fed to cut rates before the end of the year — “If the Fed is serious about the inflation target, then the odds favor a rate cut over a rate hike,” he writes. Given Powell’s reassurance of the Fed’s strong commitment to its inflation goal, a rate cut could certainly be in the near future.

Our March Fed meeting predictions

There’s little chance of a rate hike this time around. In a policy speech on March 8, Fed Chair Jerome Powell reinforced the FOMC’s patient approach when considering any changes to the current policy, indicating he saw “nothing in the outlook demanding an immediate policy response and particularly given muted inflation pressures.”

This is no different from what we heard back in January, when the Fed took a breather after its December rate hike. There was no change to the federal funds rate at that meeting, and Powell had stressed that the FOMC would be exercising patience throughout 2019, waiting for signs of risk from economic data before making any further policy changes.

Further strengthening the case for rates on hold, the reliably hawkish Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren cited several reasons that “justify a pause in the recent monetary tightening cycle,” in a policy speech on March 5. His big tell was citing the lack of immediate signs of strengthening inflation, which remains around the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Even though there had been some speculation of a first quarter hike at the March Fed meeting, LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze reminds us that the Fed remains, as ever, data-dependent. “The latest data has been on the weaker side, with the exception of wage inflation,” he says.

The economic forecast may be weaker than December’s. The Fed will release their longer-range economic predictions after the March meeting. These projections should include adjustments in the outlook for GDP, unemployment and inflation. The Fed will also provide its forecast for future federal funds rates.

Kapfidze expects we’ll see a weaker forecast this time around than what we saw in December. “I except the GDP forecast to go down, and the federal funds rate expectations to go down.” This follows a December report that posted lower numbers than the September projections.

Despite flagging economic projections, Rosengren offered a steady outlook in his speech. “My view is that the most likely outcome for 2019 is relatively healthy U.S. economic growth,” he said, again attributing this to “inflation very close to Fed policymakers’ 2 percent target and a U.S. labor market that continues to tighten somewhat.”

The Fed’s economic predictions offer clues to its future policy decisions. In September, the Fed projected a 2019 federal funds rate of 3.1%. That number dropped to 2.9% in the December report. With the current rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, there’s still room for more hikes this year. Keep in mind, however, that, the March meeting may narrow projections for the rest of 2019.

As for Kapfidze, he thinks we’ll see a rate hike in the second half of the year. “If wage inflation continues to increase and it trickles more into the economy, the Fed could choose to raise rates due to that risk.”

However, as of March 12, markets see the odds of a rate hike this year at zero, while the odds of a federal funds cut has risen to around 20%, based the Fed Fund futures.

What happened at the March Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve signaled no rate hikes this year, and the possibility of only one increase in 2020. The Fed has pivoted pretty rapidly from its hawkish stance in 2018 to a more dovish outlook as it puts policy on ice. This change in tone grows directly from the FOMC’s observation of slowing growth in economic activity, namely household spending and business investment. The Fed also noted that employment gains have plateaued along with the unemployment rate, which nevertheless remains at very low levels.

So the federal funds rate looks to remain at 2.25% to 2.50% for a year or more, and the FOMC highlighted that this is the not-too-hot, not-too-cold level that for now best serves its dual mandate to “foster maximum employment and price stability.”

The Fed also released its Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). The March SEP indicated a median projected federal funds rate of 2.6% for 2020, which is why everybody is discussing the possibility of at least one, small increase next year.

For those who were really hoping for at least one more rate hike, all is not lost — Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree chief economist, believes we shouldn’t take March’s decision too gravely. “There are special factors that suggest the economy could reaccelerate,” he says. “The government shutdown threw a wrench into things, slowing some activity and distorting how we measure the economy.” He also remarks that since the financial crisis, data in the first quarter has continued to come in weak, still leaving room for everything to reaccelerate in the second and third quarters. He points to the already strong labor market as a plus.

Fed economic forecasts hint at a possible rate cut by the end of 2019. Just as the Fed projects a slightly higher federal funds rate in 2020, it also posted a projected 2.4% for 2019. Note that this projected rate falls below the upper end of the current rate corridor of 2.5%. This means the doves may want to see a possible rate cut if improvements in the economic outlook don’t materialize by mid-year.

When asked about this potential rate cut, Fed Chair Jerome Powell emphasized the Committee’s current positive outlook, while also emphasizing that it remains mindful of potential risks. Still, he maintained that “the data are not currently sending a signal that we need to move in one direction or another.” He also remarked that since it’s still early in the year, they have limited and mixed data to consult.

Kapfidze offers a more concretely positive outlook, noting that the chances of a rate cut are pretty slim. “To get a rate cut, you’d have to have sustained growth below 2%. There would have to be further weakness in the economy, like if trade deals get messier, to warrant a rate cut.”

The Fed downgraded its economic outlook for 2019 for the second time in recent months. In line with Kapfidze’s predictions, we did see a weaker economic outlook coming out of this month’s Fed meeting. The median GDP forecast for 2019 and 2020 decreased from December projections, while it remained the same for 2021 and beyond. This comes hand in hand with the decreased fed funds rate projections.

The FOMC increased their unemployment projections, which Kapfidze found surprising because the labor market has been so strong. “Maybe they believe that those numbers indicate a deceleration,” he said, “but really, it has to be consistent considering the other changes that they made.”

Why the Fed March meeting is important for you

It’s easy to let all of this monetary policy talk go in one ear and out the other. But what the Fed does or doesn’t change has an impact on your daily life. Without a rate hike since December, we’re already starting to see mortgage rates fall. This is helpful not only for those who want to buy a home, but also for those who bought homes at last year’s highs to refinance.

As for personal loans and credit cards, we may still see these rates continue to increase, just at a slower rate. These rates have little chance of decreasing because lenders may take the current weaker economic data as a sign that the economy is going to be more risky.

Deposit accounts will feel the opposite effects as banks may start to cut savings account rates. At best, banks will keep their rates where they are for now, until more evidence for a rate cut arises.

Our January Fed meeting predictions

Don’t expect a rate hike. The FOMC ended the year with yet another rate hike, raising the federal funds rate from 2.25 to 2.5%. It was the committee’s fourth increase of 2018, which began with a rate of just 1.5%.

But the January Fed meeting will likely be an increase-free one. Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, said the probability of a rate hike is “basically zero.”

Kapfidze’s assessment is twofold. First, he noted that the Fed typically announces rate increases during the third month of each quarter, not the first. This means a hike announcement would be much more likely during the FOMC’s March 19-20 meeting, rather than in January.

Perhaps more importantly, Kapfidze said there’s been too much market flux for the FOMC to make a new decision on the federal funds rate. He predicts the Fed will likely wait for more evidence before it considers another rate hike.

“I think a lot of it is a reaction to market volatility, and therefore that’s lowered the expectations for federal fund hikes,” Kapfidze said.

But if a rate hike is so unlikely, what should consumers expect from the January Fed meeting? Here are three things to keep an eye on.

#1 The frequency of rate hikes moving forward

It’s unclear when the next increase will occur, but the FOMC’s post-meeting statement could give a clearer picture of how often rate hikes might occur in the future.

The Fed released its latest economic projections last month, which predicted the federal funds rate would likely reach 2.9% by the end of 2019. This figure was a decline from its September 2018 projections, which placed that figure at 3.1%.

As a result, many analysts — Kapfidze included — are forecasting a slower year for rate hikes than in 2018. Kapfdize said some analysts are predicting zero increases, or even a rate decrease, but he believes that may be too conservative.

“I still think the underlying economic data supports at least two rate hikes, maybe even three,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze’s outlook falls more in line with the Fed’s current projections, as it would mean two rate hikes of 0.25% at some point this year. There could be more clarity after the January meeting, as the FOMC’s accompanying statement will help indicate whether the Fed’s monetary policy has changed since December.

#2 An economic forecast for 2019

The FOMC’s post-meeting statement always includes a brief assessment of the economy, and this month’s comments will provide a helpful first look at the outlook for 2019.

Consumers will have to wait until March for the Fed’s full projections — those are only updated after every other meeting — but the FOMC will follow its January gathering with its usual press release. This statement normally provides insight into the state of household spending, inflation, the unemployment rate and GDP growth, as well as a prediction of how quickly the economy will grow in the coming months.

At last month’s Fed meeting, the committee found that household spending was continuing to increase, unemployment was remaining low and overall inflation remained near 2%. Kapfidze expects January’s forecast to be fairly similar, as recent market fluctuations might make it difficult for the FOMC to predict any major changes.

Read more: What the Fed Rate Hike Means for Your Investments

“I wouldn’t expect any significant change in the tone compared to December,” Kapfidze said. “I think they’ll want to see a little more data come in, and a little more time pass.”

At the very least, the statement will let consumers know if the Fed is taking a patient approach to its analysis, a decision that may help indicate just how volatile the FOMC considers the economy to be.

#3 A response to the government shutdown

The big mystery entering January’s Fed meeting is the partial government shutdown. While Kapfidze said the FOMC’s outlook should be similar to December, he also warned that things could change quickly if Congress and President Trump can’t agree on a spending bill soon.

“The longer it goes on, and the more contentious it gets, the less confidence consumers have — the less confidence business have. And a lot of that could translate to increased financial market volatility,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze added that the longer the government stays closed, the more likely the FOMC is to react with a change in monetary policy. During the October 2013 shutdown, for example, the Fed’s Board of Governors released a statement encouraging banks and credit unions to allow consumers a chance at renegotiating debt payments, such as mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

“The agencies encourage financial institutions to consider prudent workout arrangements that increase the potential for creditworthy borrowers to meet their obligations,” the 2013 statement said.

What happened at the January Fed meeting:

No rate hike for now

In its first meeting of 2019, the Federal Open Market Committee announced it was keeping the federal fund rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, therefore not raising the rates, as widely predicted. This decision follows much speculation surrounding the economy after the Fed rate hike in December 2018, which was the fourth rate hike last year. In its press release, the FOMC cited the near-ideal inflation rate of 2%, strong job growth and low unemployment as reasons for leaving the rate unchanged.

In the post-meeting press conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell confirmed that the committee feels that its current policy is appropriate and will adopt a “wait-and-see approach” in regards to future policy changes.

Read more: How Fed Rate Hikes Change Borrowing and Savings Rates

Impact of government shutdown is yet to be seen

The FOMC’s official statement did not address the government shutdown in detail, although it was discussed briefly in the press conference that followed. Powell said he believes that any GDP lost due to the shutdown will be regained in the second quarter, providing there isn’t another shutdown. Any permanent effect would come from another shutdown, but he did not answer how a shutdown might change future policy.

What the January meeting bodes for the rest of the year

Don’t expect more rate hikes. As for what this decision might signal for the future, Powell maintains that the committee is “data dependent”. This data includes labor market conditions, inflation pressures and expectations and price stability. He stressed that they will remain patient while continuing to look at financial developments both abroad and at home. These factors will help determine when a rate adjustment would be appropriate, if at all. When asked whether a rate change would mean an increase or a decrease, he emphasized again the use of this data for clarification on any changes. Still, the Fed did predict in December that the federal funds rate could reach 2.9% by the end of this year, indicating a positive change rather than a negative one.

CD’s might start looking better. For conservative savers wondering whether or not it’s worth it to tie up funds in CDs and risk missing out on future rate hikes – long-term CDs are looking like a safer and safer bet, according to Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. Post-Fed meeting, Tumin wrote in his outlook, “I can’t say for sure, but it’s beginning to look more likely that we have already passed the rate peak of this cycle. It may be time to start moving money into long-term CDs.”

Look out for March. Depending on who you ask, the FOMC’s inaction was to be expected. As Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree’s chief economist, noted [below], if there is going to be a rate increase this quarter, it will be announced in the FOMC’s March meeting. We will also have to wait for the March meeting to get the Fed’s full economic projections. For now, its statement confirms that household spending is still on an incline, inflation remains under control and unemployment is low. It also notes that growth of business fixed investment has slowed down from last year. As for inflation, market-based measures have decreased in recent months, but survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations haven’t changed much.

 

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Learn more: What is the Federal Open Market Committee?

The FOMC is one of two monetary policy-controlling bodies within the Federal Reserve. While the Fed’s Board of Governors oversees the discount rate and reserve requirements, the FOMC is responsible for open market operations, which are defined as the purchase and sale of securities by a central bank.

Most importantly, the committee controls the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate at which banks and credit unions can lend reserve balances to other banks and credit unions.

The committee has eight scheduled meetings each year, during which its members assess the current economic environment and make decisions about national monetary policy — including whether it will institute new rate hikes.

A look back at 2018

As we continue through an economically uncertain 2019, it’s worth understanding what the Fed did in 2018, and how those decisions might affect future policy.

The year 2018 was the Fed’s most aggressive rate-raising year in a decade. The FOMC’s four rate hikes were the most since the 2008 Financial Crisis, after the funds rate stayed at nearly zero for seven years. This approach was largely based on the the FOMC’s economic projections, which found that from 2017 to 2018 GDP grew, unemployment declined and inflation its Fed-preferred rate of 2%.

In addition to the rate hikes, the FOMC also continued to implement its balance sheet normalization program, through which the Fed is aiming to reduce its securities holdings.

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Lauren Perez
Lauren Perez |

Lauren Perez is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lauren here