March 18, 2019 / 3:11 PM / in a month

TREASURIES-Yields on hold ahead of Fed interest-rate meeting

NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury yields ticked up but were essentially stalled on Monday morning as traders held off from placing large positions ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting meeting this week at which the U.S. central bank is expected to keep interest rates steady.

The probability that the Fed will announce Wednesday that it will keep rates at the current 225-250 basis-point level was 98.7 percent on Monday morning, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool. Weak data published this month, including the government’s employment report for February which drastically missed expectations, has supported the Fed’s pause in rate hikes.

In January, the Fed pivoted from hiking rates quarterly to pledging patience before making more moves. Fed Chair Jerome Powell has also said the central bank could stop shedding bonds this year.

Data showed on Friday that U.S. manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent in February, weakening for a second straight month, while factory activity in New York state was softer than expected this month with an index reading of 3.7.

Although unchanged rates have been priced in by the market, investors will be watching to see if the Federal Open Market Committee’s dot plot, which shows individual committee members’ rate views for the coming three years, aligns with the patient approach expressed by the chair and vice chair. Investors will also be watching for details on whether the central bank will continue to shed bond holdings from its balance sheet.

“This week is all about FOMC. It will be mostly about where they put the 2020 dots and if they give any indication on when they will stop reducing the balance sheet. The market is already pricing in a very dovish Fed with a 25 percent chance of a cut this year and a full cut by end of 2020. So, if the 2020 dots don’t move down 50 basis points, I think the market has a chance to sell off,” wrote Thomas Simons, senior money market economist at Jefferies.

The benchmark 10-year yield was up 0.7 basis point, last at 2.600 percent, trading within a narrow range. At either end of the yield curve, the two-year was up 0.4 basis point, while the 30-year was down 0.1 basis point.

The very modest selloff in Treasuries was in part owed to new investment-grade corporate bond deals expected to hit the market on Monday, according to analysts. Retailer Target Corp on Monday morning announced a 10-year bond offering. Bonds are also expected from French bank BNP Paribas, British pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline and three regional U.S. utilities. (Reporting by Kate Duguid in New York Editing by James Dalgleish)

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