May 13, 2019 / 8:04 PM / a month ago

MONEY MARKETS-U.S.-China trade war lifts bets on U.S. rate cut

(Adds graphic, Fed’s Rosengren comments in Reuters interview)

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - Interest rate traders increased their bets the U.S. Federal Reserve would lower interest rates by year-end to counter a domestic economic slowdown stemming from an escalation in the trade war between China and the United States.

The expectations of a rate decrease in December returned to the highest levels that were seen in March after Fed policy-makers signaled they would not raise rates in 2019.

On Monday, Beijing said it planned to set import tariffs ranging from 5% to 25% on 5,140 U.S. products on a revised $60-billion target list. It said the tariffs would take effect on June 1.

China’s retaliatory measure followed Washington’s tariff increase on $200 billion of Chinese imports on Friday as talks between the world’s biggest economies unexpectedly broke down. U.S. President Donald Trump has said the Chinese government backtracked on commitments it made during months of negotiations.

Analysts worry the tension between the two parties will spiral into a trade war that would harm the global economy.

“If growth concerns were coupled with a major correction in equity markets the Fed would certainly be pushed closer to cutting interest rates,” Andrew Hollenhorst, chief U.S. economist with Citigroup, wrote in a research note.

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren told Reuters on Monday that the Fed would be able to respond to any slowdown from the U.S.-China trade dispute.

“If the impact of the tariffs - and whatever financial market reaction to those tariffs is - causes more of a slowdown, then we do have the tools available to us, including lower interest rates, not that I’m necessarily expecting this will generate the need to do that,” said Rosengren, who is a voter on the Fed’s rate-setting committee this year.

At 3:44 p.m. (1944 GMT), federal funds futures implied traders saw about a 74% chance the U.S. central bank would lower the target range on short-term rates by a quarter point to 2.00%-2.25% at its Dec. 10-11 policy meeting. This compared with a 64% implied likelihood late on Friday, according to CME Group’s FedWatch program.

A month ago, futures prices suggested traders saw a 40% likelihood of a quarter-point rate decrease.

Reporting by Richard Leong Editing by Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler

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