What’s The Fed and Why Does It Matter?

You’ll often hear the twenty four news cycle ask the question “What will the Fed do next” when it tries, often unsuccessfully, to predict what might happen next to global markets.

The Federal Reserve (Fed), as the central bank of the United States, plays a pivotal role in shaping global financial markets, including those in the UK. Although it’s influence can often be more emotional than scientific, driving investor sentiment and gut feel decisions. Its policies and decisions are relevant to UK investment markets for several reasons:

1. Global Financial Influence
The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, and its financial markets are deeply integrated with global markets. As a result, the Fed’s monetary policy decisions—such as changes in interest rates or quantitative easing programs—significantly influence global liquidity and capital flows. This can affect investment sentiment, risk appetite, and capital allocation decisions worldwide, including in the UK.

2. Impact on Exchange Rates
Fed policies directly impact the U.S. dollar, which is the world’s primary reserve currency. When the Fed adjusts interest rates, it influences the dollar’s strength relative to other currencies, including the British pound. A stronger dollar can lead to a weaker pound, affecting the cost of imports and exports between the two countries, and influencing UK businesses that rely on international trade. Moreover, changes in the exchange rate can affect the relative value of returns for UK investors who hold U.S. assets.

3. Interest Rate Parity
The interest rate decisions by the Fed can cause shifts in global interest rate expectations. For UK investors, changes in U.S. rates often lead to anticipatory moves by the Bank of England, either to maintain competitive interest rates or to manage inflation and economic growth. These changes can influence bond yields, mortgage rates, and other interest-sensitive aspects of the UK economy. This has been a key focus of attention in recent years as rising interest rates have been at the forefront of public concern.

4. Investor Sentiment and Market Dynamics
The Fed’s outlook on the U.S. economy, particularly its assessments of employment, inflation, and economic growth, can sway global market sentiment. Positive or negative news from the Fed can trigger risk-on or risk-off movements, impacting UK equities, bonds, and other asset classes. Investors often look to the Fed’s analysis and forward guidance to make preemptive adjustments to their portfolios.

5. Impact on Commodities and Global Trade
The Fed’s monetary policy also affects commodity prices, many of which are dollar-denominated. For the UK, which imports a significant amount of raw materials, changes in these prices can influence inflation and corporate profit margins. Furthermore, since the U.S. is a major trading partner for many countries, any economic measures impacting U.S. trade will also impact global trade networks, including those connected to the UK.

Due to these factors, the Fed’s decisions are closely monitored by UK investors, financial analysts, and policymakers. The interconnectedness of the global economy means that even purely domestic decisions by the Fed can ripple outward, affecting financial conditions and economic prospects in the UK and beyond. It isn’t something we can control or influence however, so however much noise you hear about “What the Fed might do next”, it’s down to you whether you listen