Fed holds rates steady, insists much more economic progress is needed
The Federal Reserve made no changes to its policy rate on Wednesday and chair Jerome Powell was resolute in insisting that the central bank is still not ready to "think about thinking about" or "talk about talking about" raising U.S. interest rates or reducing its $120 billion a month bond-buying program.
Why it matters: As the economy has improved and inflation expectations and price hikes have picked up, economists and market participants have wondered aloud if the Fed was open to reducing its massive market assistance sooner than expected.
- The answer was a resounding no.
What happened: Powell made numerous references to what he called the Fed's "substantial further progress" test, which he did not define but made abundantly clear had not been reached.
- A jobs report in March that showed the U.S. added 916,000 jobs, manufacturing and service industry surveys showing record-high readings and inflation expectations at their highest in nearly a decade are not enough for the Fed to pull back support.
What he's saying: "We articulated the substantial further progress test at our December meeting and really for the next couple of months made relatively little progress toward our goals … and then vaccinations started to get more widespread, the economy reopened, we got a really nice job report for March," Powell said during a press conference following the Fed's rate decision.
- "It doesn’t constitute substantial further progress. It’s not close to substantial further progress."
The big picture: The Fed's new plan of action is to let inflation rise above its 2% target for some time and that has not yet happened.
- However, prices are rising in housing, food, cars, toys and just about everywhere else, leading some like former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and former Global Development Council chair Mohamed El-Erian to worry openly that the central bank's new framework risks allowing inflation to hurt the economy.
The bottom line: "We’re hopeful we’ll see along this path a way to that goal [of substantial further progress] and we believe we will. It just is a question of when," Powell said.
- "When the time comes for us to talk about talking about it, we’ll do that. But that time is not now. We’re just not that far. We’ve had one great jobs report, it’s not enough. We’re going to act on actual data, not our forecast and we’re just going to need to see more data. It’s no more complicated than that."