SVB collapse causes concern for U.S. economy ahead of CPI report

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release inflation data for February on Tuesday morning as investors continue to process the fallout from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and assess what it means for the broader economy.

Forecasts were for a 12-month headline inflation reading of 6%, down from 6.4% in January.

Before SVB collapsed Friday, analysts were still fearing that the U.S. economy was running too hot to be able to contain inflation, with some forecasters even betting that the Federal Reserve would have to hike its key federal funds rate by 0.5% at its meeting this month, up from the 0.25% increase at its January meeting.

But in the wake of regulators’ seizure of SVB, the U.S. economy may find itself at the beginning of a new chapter, one in which firms are less inclined to make investments and thus reducing demand — and price growth — in the market.

Late Sunday, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius wrote in a note to clients that he believed the Fed would have to “pause” its rate hiking program entirely as a result of SVB’s collapse.

“While we agree that more tightening will likely be needed to address the inflation problem if financial stability concerns abate, we think Fed officials are likely to prioritize financial stability for now,” Hatzius wrote.

He added: “Financial stability is an immediate concern and policymakers need to safeguard it at every turn, while inflation is a much slower-moving problem.”

Other economists suggested the news of SVB’s failure had, so far, done little to alter the trajectory of price increases in the U.S. economy and thus the pressure on the Fed to continue to raise rates.

“Despite substantial market volatility over the last few days, there has been little to actually impact our outlook for inflation so far this year,” economists with Citibank wrote in a note to clients Monday.

The Fed is unlikely to initiate any pause in its rate hiking, they said.

“Doing so would invite markets and the public to assume that the Fed’s inflation fighting resolve is only in place up to the point when there is any bumpiness in financial markets or the real economy,” the Citi economists wrote.

Indeed, there are disparate views about what the Fed will do next as it continues its firefight against inflation.

Morgan Stanley said in its most recent note to clients that it could not rule out another 0.5% hike. Evercore’s ISI research unit and JPMorgan both believe a 0.25% hike is more likely. In addition to Goldman Sachs, Barclays financial group also believes the Fed will pause its rate hiking regime entirely. And Nomura Securities believes the Fed could even cut interest rates at its next meeting.

In addition to the outcome of the SVB saga, of course, Fed decision-making on interest rates, which influence the cost of borrowing in the U.S. economy, will remain tied to how it sees ongoing inflationary pressures in the economy unfolding.

An element the Fed will be looking closely at is the price of services, which are heavily influenced by the cost of paying workers.

“Payroll growth in the past couple months has run faster than anyone’s idea of the sustainable pace, so policymakers will remain worried about the potential for wage growth to run hotter than is consistent with the (2%) inflation target,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics research consultancy.

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