BUSINESS

Market volatility will cause Fed to delay next rate hike, Wall Street experts say in survey

Volatile financial markets will cause Federal Reserve policymakers to delay their next interest rate increase until spring and reduce the number of hikes next year to no more than two, Wall Street experts said in survey results released Tuesday.

There is no expectation that central bank officials will increase their benchmark short-term rate after a two-day policy meeting this week, the survey by CNBC found. The Fed will announce its decision Wednesday.

But the majority of the 40 economists, fund managers and analysts polled now expect the next small hike in the so-called federal funds rate will come later this spring instead of in March, as last month's survey found.

The latest survey, conducted Thursday and Friday, said a majority believe the next rate hike will be in May, but the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee doesn't meet that month.

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After the March 15-16 meeting, the FOMC next gathers in late April and then in mid-June.

Fed policymakers nudged the rate up 0.25 percentage points in December, ending seven years of keeping the rate near zero in an attempt to stimulate economic growth.

In their economic projections, a majority of the Fed's 17 policymakers anticipated four 0.25 percentage point increases this year. That would put the rate at about 1.4% by the end of 2016.

But 66% of the respondents in the CNBC survey predicted no more than two hikes this year, which would put that rate at about 0.9%.

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Falling oil prices and concern about slowing growth in China have caused major stock indexes to tumble since the start of the year. Analysts said the prospect of rising interest rates in the U.S. also has weighed on investors.

Fed policymakers described the decision to raise the rate in December -- the first hike in nearly a decade -- as a close call in minutes of their meeting.

About 80% of respondents in the CNBC survey said the December hike was the right move, with just 15% calling it a mistake.

Still, about a third of respondents said the Fed rate hike and forecast of four more increases this year was a main driver of the downturn by financial markets. About 84% of respondents said the sharp drop in oil prices was a major influence in the market declines.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Follow @JimPuzzanghera on Twitter

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