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Deciphering the intentions of Federal Reserve officials rarely gets this easy. As one after another preaches patience before their next interest rate move, a tougher question is emerging about their plans to pause: Is this a pit stop or the peak?

After nine rate increases since December 2015, Fed officials have shifted from signaling “gradual” tightening to a stance that is “patient,” a word Chairman Jerome Powell used in comments on January 10 that has been repeated by several of his colleagues since. The chorus even extended to Kansas City Fed President Esther George, usually one of the most hawkish members and one who votes on monetary policy this year.

Anticipating a Fed on hold, financial markets are pricing in a high probability of no change at all in the policy rate for 2019. U.S. central bankers in December wrote down a median estimate of two more. Bridging this gap with investors is going to be tricky and potentially volatile if the Fed decides it needs to start raising rates again.

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