Sandwiched between Tuesday’s election and the Friday’s October jobs report, the Federal Reserve is set to announce its November policy decision.
There’s a good chance that the central bank will lay low at Thursday’s meeting, both because of the murky economic outlook and because the Fed is politically independent and will want to avoid inserting itself into the election storyline.
“I don’t think they want to get into anything political — anywhere near anything political,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. Though Chair Jerome H. Powell is sure to face election-related queries at his webcast news conference, he is likely to dodge them.
“I’m sure he’s preparing in front of a mirror right now to answer some of these questions,” Mr. Daco said.
Yet by cooling prospects for a big government spending relief package, the closeness of the election — the outcome of which is not yet clear — could renew the spotlight on the central bank as it works to shore up the economy and sustain the recovery. The Fed slashed interest rates to near-zero in March and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds per month to soothe markets and support demand.
Officials are expected to discuss their future bond buying plans at this meeting, but economists expect them to hold off on major decisions as the economy’s path ahead remains wildly unsettled.
Manufacturing data have shown recent improvement. Spending on goods has been strong, bolstered by savings stashed away earlier in the year even as expanded unemployment benefits have lapsed and small business loans have run dry. Yet the situation could darken as consumers exhaust their savings and coronavirus cases surge, and the pace of job gains is already slowing.
Economists in a Bloomberg survey estimate that employers probably brought back or added 600,000 workers in October, a relatively small number when compared to the millions of Americans still out of work.
Fed officials have historically received key jobs numbers from the White House Council of Economic Advisers ahead of their release on Friday morning. But the secure fax containing that data has typically been sent late on Thursday afternoon, a person familiar with the process said. Officials will not know the October numbers before their meeting.
Mr. Powell will hold a news conference around 2:30 p.m., after the Federal Open Market Committee releases its statement at 2 p.m.
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