The U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates in December, after the Nov. 8 presidential election, according to a Reuters poll that also predicted a pickup in economic growth but with still relatively subdued inflation.
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That would be one full year after the last rate increase, something most Fed policymakers and private forecasters had not expected.
The poll forecast two more rises next year, taking the federal funds rate to 1.00-1.25 percent at the end of 2017.
A move in 2016 has been delayed, first on a sharp fall in global markets and then after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
But the Fed's continued eagerness to tighten monetary policy underscores both the relative strength of the world's largest economy as well as how tough the central bank is finding such a move.
Its peers from Europe to Asia are easing policy. New Zealand on Thursday cut interest rates to record lows, joining Australia, to stave off deflation and stem the rise in its currency. [ECILT/EZ] [ECILT/GB]
Of the 95 economists surveyed over the past week, 69 expect the federal funds target rate to rise to 0.50-0.75 percent by the fourth quarter from 0.25-0.50 percent currently. One forecast rates at 0.75-1.00 by year-end.
With a subdued inflation outlook, however, a slim majority of economists said a Fed rate hike this year would serve more as a confidence boost rather than a measure to quell pressure from rising prices.
After a weaker-than-expected 1.2 percent annualized pace of expansion in the second quarter, the U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.5 percent this quarter and slightly more than 2 percent in each quarter until the end of 2017, the poll found.
But respondents expected the core personal consumption expenditure price index, the Fed's preferred inflation gauge, to average just 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter and stay below the central bank's 2 percent target even at the end of 2017.
Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Justin Lederer said he expected one interest-rate move, in December.
"The election is one of the reasons why they can't go sooner," he said. "We don't think the Fed will want to disrupt the election."
The Fed's November policy meeting is only days before the election. Economists gave a median probability of 58 percent of a move the next month, in December, up 8 percentage points from a poll last month.
Financial markets, however, are placing only a little more than one-in-three chance of a hike at the Dec. 14 meeting, according to data on the CME Group website.
A majority of economists said the probability of a September hike had risen after a report last week showed 255,000 new jobs were created in July and wage growth picked up pace, although that was still not their central view.
Respondents gave just a 25 percent chance of a hike for September, with only a handful of economists calling for one then.
A few banks said there would be no increase at all this year.
(Polling and analysis by Vartika Sahu; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)