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Fed Faces Rate Cut Dilemma Amidst Red Sea Shipping Disruptions, Inflation Fears

As the U.S. and global markets await the Fed’s decision, the interplay between geopolitical risks, inflationary pressures, and monetary policy remains a critical focus.

The Red Sea shipping attacks are pressuring interest rate cuts.
Credit: Dorian Mongel, Unsplash

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Federal Reserve's anticipated policy of reducing interest rates in 2024 faces new challenges due to recent disruptions in commercial shipping traffic through the Red Sea/Suez Canal, fueling inflation fears. This development complicates the Fed’s decision-making process ahead of its crucial meeting on January 31st.

Fed's Rate Cut Strategy in Turmoil

Initially, the Fed signaled on December 13th its intent to cut interest rates three times in 2024, with traders expecting the first dovish move as early as March. This announcement had a positive impact on both the cryptocurrency and traditional markets, igniting a bullish sentiment.

However, the situation took a turn five weeks later. Analysts from ING highlighted that

"elevated geopolitical risks in the Red Sea region are raising concerns over supply disruption and energy prices feeding into higher inflation." This complicates the Fed's strategy of rate cuts, as higher inflation typically calls for tighter monetary policy.

Bitcoin's Downturn

Bitcoin investors, in particular, are closely watching the Fed's moves. BTC has recently faced a downturn, partially attributed to GBTC outflows and FTX sales. Bitcoin bulls were hoping for rapid rate cuts from the Fed to support the market.

But with the Fed's benchmark interest rate currently between 5.25% and 5.5%, and after an aggressive tightening of 525 basis points between March 2022 and July 2023, the prospect of imminent cuts seems less certain.

Red Sea Shipping Disruptions

The disruption in the Red Sea has significantly reduced the number of vessels passing through the Suez Canal – a crucial passage for 20% of the world's oil and 25% of global liquified natural gas. This has led to a sharp decline in transit volume.

The situation is exacerbated by recent attacks by Iranian-backed Houthis from Yemen on commercial vessels. Shipowners are now opting for the longer and more expensive route via Southern Africa. This rerouting could have far-reaching effects on global supply chains and energy prices, potentially causing a spike in inflation similar to the aftermath of the 2020 global lockdown.

Arthur Hayes, Chief Investment Officer of Maelstrom and former CEO of BitMEX, expressed concerns about the inflationary impact of these shipping disruptions. He stated:

"For an inflation statistician, anything that travels by ship will get more expensive, all else being equal."

Hayes warned that this could lead to a further decline in Bitcoin's value in the near-term, possibly falling below $35,000. The outcome of the upcoming FOMC meeting is eagerly anticipated, with significant implications for both traditional and cryptocurrency markets.


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