Federal Reserve

Janet Yellen probably just signaled two interest rate hikes for this year

Fed's Yellen: Don't overreact to jobs report
Fed's Yellen: Don't overreact to jobs report
Yellen: Close to eliminating slack in labor market
Yellen: Close to eliminating slack in labor market
Yellen: I expect expansion to continue
Yellen: I expect expansion to continue

If Fed Chair Janet Yellen has her way, there likely will be two rate hikes this year, contrary to current market expectations.

While Yellen didn't overtly express that desire, there was one key section of the speech she prepared Monday that strongly signaled two hikes on the way:

Next week, concurrent with our policy meeting, the FOMC participants will release a new set of economic projections. Those could, of course, differ from the previous set of such projections in March. But speaking for myself, although the economy recently has been affected by a mix of countervailing forces, I see good reasons to expect that the positive forces supporting employment growth and higher inflation will continue to outweigh the negative ones.

The translation is fairly simple: Each quarter, the Federal Open Market Committee releases its Summary of Economic Projections, which is basically where members feel the economy is going and what the likely path of the Fed's interest rate target will be.

At the March meeting, FOMC officials indicated that two rate hikes are likely this year. Yellen's remarks indicate her opinion has not changed since then.

"That's still her sense. She's still cautiously optimistic about the economy," said David Blitzer, chairman and managing director at S&P Dow Jones Indices. "She's just watching the data, and right now if anyone could read her mind she's still expecting two rate hikes before the end of the year."

With the chair highly adept so far at consensus building, the likelihood should increase that the Fed will move twice, even though it's something the market currently does not expect.

After the Yellen speech, the market was assigning very little chance of a hike this summer — just a 4 percent probability for June and 31 percent for July. September had a 52 percent probability, just as it did before the speech. But the CME's Fed tracker was indicating just a 21 percent chance for a second hike by December.

"What you're seeing in Yellen's comments today is the Fed is not willing to abandon the promise of at least two rate hikes later this year," said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors. "The Fed's saying, hold on a minute, there are a number of positives that are occurring and we're holding tight to the idea that we could be raising rates a couple times this year."