The Federal Reserve Building stands in Washington.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to cut interest rates before the European Central Bank does, a former member of the Bank of England said, defying current market expectations.

“I suspect that the Fed will be the first to really put a cut in,” DeAnne Julius, a founding member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Investors are closely monitoring central bank moves on the back of a considerable reduction in inflation across major economies. The expectation of reduced rates has boosted equity markets since late 2023.

So far, Switzerland was the first major economy to cut interest rates back in late March.

Market players are currently pricing in a 92.8% chance that the ECB will cut rates in June from the historically high level of 4%, according to LSEG data. The same database shows only a 53.5% chance of a cut by the Federal Reserve at their June meeting.

Julius explained her forecast was based on the Fed’s dual mandate, which looks at both inflation and employment in the U.S. economy. The latest job figures pointed to a buoyant U.S. labor market, and inflation has also dropped though it is still above the Fed’s 2% target.

“I think things move a little faster in the U.S., quite frankly. The labour market adjusts more quickly,” she said.

Strong economic data out of the United States has led market players to reduce their expectations for rate cuts from the Federal Reserve in 2024. Whereas at the start of the year, they were expecting about six rate cuts to take place in 2024, they are now only forecasting about three such reductions.

“The labor market adjusts more quickly.  I don’t think the Fed will move very much, but I suspect that there could well be a little move there, somewhere, towards the second half of the year,” Julius added. “And that would create a little space and maybe a little pressure even on the Bank of England … whose economy is, of course, tied to the U.S. economy, and the European economy.”

Her comments come just ahead of a European Central Bank meeting due on Thursday. Though the central bank is unlikely to change rates at this gathering, markets are looking for some clues on whether the institution led by Christine Lagarde will be in a position to cut borrowing costs in June.

“The ECB, [it] takes them a while to reach consensus. Because the situation is, inflation is far too high in some of the countries still, and below their 2% target in others. So, you know, theirs is not really an economic analysis, it’s partly a political and an internal weighting of the different economies and the different politics in the different economies,” Julius said.

“So Christine Lagarde has a real job on her hands. And I think she does a good job. But that does mean that she’s got to carefully move towards something that might be a consensus, and I don’t think they’re near a consensus yet for a rate cut.”

So far, Lagarde has stressed that policymakers will consider lowering interest rates at the June meeting, but she has signaled an uncertain path beyond that point. Notably, the June gathering will be the first one for which data from spring wage negotiations will be available.

Improvements in inflation

The latest inflation figures out of the euro zone backed the downward trend in prices. Headline inflation unexpectedly slowed to 2.4% in March, down from 2.6% in February. The ECB targets to ensure price stability at 2%.

“The central bank’s decision to revise down its inflation forecast appears to be vindicated by the March print for Consumer Price Index: disinflation continues at a faster clip than the market expected,” Gilles Moëc, group chief economist at AXA Investment Managers, said in a note ahead of the Thursday meeting.

“The resilience in services prices remains a sore point though. The message from the surveys on firms’ price future price behaviour, and still anaemic domestic demand, are however reassuring for the quantum of inflationary pressure still in the pipeline. It seems the European economy is for now stabilising in low gear,” he added.


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