Mario Draghi has opened a door. Janet Yellen has to decide whether she wants to walk through.
The European Central Bank president signaled last week that policy on his side of the Atlantic is going on hold as officials wait to see how their stimulus measures play out. That pause may hand the Federal Reserve chair an opportunity to raise interest rates in coming months, by reducing the risk of a sharp rally in the dollar if the policies of the two central banks conspicuously diverged.
“The reality for the ECB is the euro zone isn’t in nearly as bad a shape as Draghi would like to make out — it pushes the currency and gives the Fed far more room to move,” said Rob Carnell, chief international economist at ING Bank NV in London. “Sometime in the third quarter sounds like a reasonable bet for me but I wouldn’t rule out the second quarter.”
Investors see zero probability the Federal Open Market Committee will hike at its April 26-27 meeting and only a 20 percent chance of a move at its gathering in June, eight days before Britain holds a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union. A vote by U.K. citizens to depart could trigger financial-market turmoil and is a source of uncertainty that may give the Fed pause. The likelihood of a move in July is 34 percent, according to prices in federal funds futures contracts.