Traders expect Fed to tighten a year before Bernanke’s pledge

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Money-market derivative traders expect the U.S. central bank will lift its target rate for overnight loans a year earlier than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s pledge of late 2014.

Treasury yields surged and money-market rates rose after Federal Open Market Committee members raised their assessment of the U.S. economy on March 13. The policy statement drove money- market derivative traders to bring forward the time when they predict the Fed will first lift its target of zero to 0.25 percent and damped speculation the Fed will buy more debt in a third round of quantitative easing, or QE3.

Forward markets for overnight index swaps, whose rate shows what traders expect the federal funds effective rate to average over the life of the contract, signal a quarter-percentage advance in approximately the September and October 2013 period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of March 15. Last month, such an increase in the effective rate wasn’t predicted until early 2014. This year the effective rate has averaged 0.15 percentage point below the top end of the target range that the Fed reiterated three days ago.

“In a week, the market has moved from focusing on how and when the Fed might do QE3 to when the Fed might start the tightening cycle,” said Brian Smedley, a strategist in New York at Bank of America Corp., in a telephone interview. “Not only has the market priced out QE3, but rates are pricing in Fed hikes a full year ahead of when the FOMC anticipates raising rates. In our view, it’s very hard to conceive of a scenario where the Bernanke Fed is raising rates in 2013.”

Economic Rebound

Data signaling the economic rebound is gaining steam emboldened traders to sell Treasuries and lift money-market rates amid positive sentiment from the central bank.

Retail sales jumped 1.1 percent in February, according to a U.S. Commerce Department report March 13. The Labor Department reported yesterday that initial jobless claims in the U.S. decreased in the week ended March 10 to 351,000, matching the lowest level in four years.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes touched 2.35 percent today, the highest level in more than four months, while those on 30-year bonds rose to as high as 3.49 percent. The two-year note yield was 0.36 percent, up from 0.32 percent at the end of last week.

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