Inflation Data Puts Fed in Wait-and-See Mode, Powell Says | ORBITAL AFFAIRS

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The Federal Reserve Stays Steady on Interest Rates Despite Inflation Concerns

Key Takeaways:

  • Officials at the Federal Reserve have yet to see data that would make them confident inflation is firmly on a path down to a 2% annual rate, Fed chair Jerome Powell said Friday.
  • The Fed will need more reports showing cooling inflation before cutting interest rates, Powell said, repeating themes from earlier remarks.
  • The central bank’s stance hasn’t been shifted either by surprisingly encouraging inflation trends from late last year, or more recent reports showing inflation staying hotter.
  • With the economy going strong, policymakers believe they can afford to keep interest rates higher for longer, which puts extra pressure on inflation and the economy.

The architects of the nation’s monetary policy aren’t in a hurry to cut interest rates, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell confirmed in remarks Friday. Speaking in an on-stage interview at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Powell said policymakers at the central bank were keeping a steady hand and are in no rush to cut the key fed funds rate, which influences borrowing costs for mortgages, credit cards, and all kinds of other loans.

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Fed officials have been weighing how high to keep the fed funds rate and for how long, having held it at a 23-year high since July in an effort to cool inflation. High borrowing costs fight inflation by discouraging borrowing and spending, which also drags on the economy. So the Fed’s balancing act is to hold rates just high enough to quench inflation without causing a recession.

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“The economy is strong right now, the labor market is strong right now, and inflation has been coming down,” Powell said. “We will be careful about this decision because we can.”

New Data Showed Inflation Still Above Target

Powell’s remarks came after an official government report on inflation Friday showed consumer prices were still increasing faster than the Fed’s target of a 2% annual rate, with data mostly meeting forecasters’ expectations. Powell and other officials have said they would need more data showing inflation falling before they would reduce interest rates. Although inflation fell rapidly at the end of 2023, data from January and February showed it bouncing back somewhat. Powell said policymakers didn’t want to overreact to either trend, and the latest report hasn’t changed that outlook.

“The decision to begin to reduce rates is a very, very important one because the risks are two-sided. If we reduce rates too soon, there’s a chance that inflation would pop back and we’d have to come back in and that would be very disruptive,” Powell said. “There’s also a risk that we would wait too long and that in that case, it could be unnecessary, unneeded damage to the economy and perhaps the labor market.”

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In conclusion, despite concerns about inflation running above target levels, the Federal Reserve remains cautious about cutting interest rates. Powell emphasized the need for more data showing a sustained decrease in inflation before any rate cuts are considered. The central bank’s focus on keeping borrowing costs higher for longer reflects its confidence in the strength of the economy and its desire to avoid unnecessary disruptions. As policymakers continue to monitor economic indicators closely, their decisions will play a crucial role in shaping the future trajectory of interest rates and overall economic stability.

For more financial news and updates, visit Investopedia.

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