- Traders are now assigning a 51 percent chance of a fourth interest rate hike, in December, according to the CME.
- Fed officials currently are indicating three hikes total, but that could change in June as the unemployment rate continues to fall.
Markets are becoming more convinced that the Federal Reserve is about to get more aggressive on interest rates.
The probability that the central bank will raise its benchmark rate a fourth time this year went above 50 percent for the first time, according to the CME's FedWatch tracking tool for the fed funds futures market.
Futures contracts are currently implying a funds rate of 2.21 percent from the current range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent. According to the CME, that translates into a 51 percent chance of a December rate hike, which would be the fourth of the year.
The Fed already approved one quarter-point hike, in March. Futures trading indicates a 95 percent chance of a June increase — the probability had been 100 percent as recently as last week — and an 81.4 percent likelihood of another move in September.
As things stand, Fed officials currently are indicating a total of three hikes this year. However, the Federal Open Market Committee meets in June, during which members will get a chance to update their forecasts.
Hawkish expectations are rising even though inflation pressures have been held at bay. The personal consumption expenditures index excluding food and energy is at 1.9 percent, and the Dallas Fed's inflation gauge is at 1.8 percent, both narrowly below the Fed's 2 percent inflation target.
In addition, wage pressures have been low, with average annual earnings rising a less-than-expected 2.6 percent annualized for April.
However, Fed officials, led by Chairman Jerome Powell, have been expressing concern about the effects that loose monetary policy can have on asset valuations. Also, the unemployment rate's drop to 3.9 percent could weigh on Fed officials who follow the Phillips Curve, an economic model that indicates wage pressures will rise as the jobless level falls.
Recently enacted fiscal stimulus in the form of lower taxes and higher spending levels also could prove inflationary.
"Now, with fiscal policy turning from restrictive to stimulative, the economy growing above trend, and investment rising, the short-term equilibrium interest rate is rising, too," Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester said in a speech Monday in Paris. "As the expansion continues, it could be that in order to maintain our policy goals, we may need to move the fed funds rate, for a time, a bit above the level of the funds rate that is expected to prevail over the longer run."
Mester is considered one of the Fed's more hawkish members.