Fed raises rates another 0.75 point, hints hikes could slow in future
The Federal Reserve continued its campaign to aggressively push up interest rates Wednesday, with a fourth-straight 0.75 percentage point rate rise, while also giving some sense of what might lead it to slow down its rate rising campaign in the future.
Driving the news: The central bank's policymaking committee raised the bank lending rate it targets to a range of 3.75% to 4%, its highest level in 15 years. As recently as March that rate was near zero.
What's new: In a statement accompanying the action, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) laid out the factors it will weigh as it decides whether policy is "sufficiently restrictive" to allow a shift toward more gradual rate increases in the future. That could occur as soon at its next meeting in mid-December.
- "In determining the pace of future increases" in rates, the FOMC "will take into account the cumulative tightening of monetary policy, the lags with which monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation, and economic and financial developments."
- That amounts to the most explicit acknowledgement to date that, while rates will continue rising, the Fed may soon slow down the pace of those rate rises to assess how its actions to date are affecting the economy.
The intrigue: Speaking at a news conference following the release of the policy statement, Fed chairman Jerome Powell walked a fine line. He opened the door for the possibility that the Fed could moderate the size of interest rate increases down the line, but tried to be careful not to signal to markets that the Fed is backing off its inflation fight.
- "It's premature to discuss pausing [interest rate increases]. It's not something that we're thinking about and that's really not a conversation to be had now. We have a ways to go," Powell told reporters.
What they're saying: Powell said economic data since its last policy meeting, including hot inflation and labor market readings, suggest that the ultimate level of interest rates will be higher than previously expected.
- "To be clear ... the question of when to moderate the pace of increases is now much less important than the question of how high to raise rates and how long to keep monetary policy restrictive," Powell said.
- Financial markets appeared to get the message. Stocks initially jumped when the policy statement was released, but gains faded as the press conference got underway. The yield on the 2-year Treasury bond initially fell, but sharply rebounded when Powell began speaking.
State of play: The Fed has tightened monetary policy more aggressively than it has in four decades this year, creating a massive selloff on Wall Street and a spike in rates for home mortgages and other forms of credit.
- It is aiming to bring inflation down from its scorching recent levels, including an 8.2% rise in the Consumer Price Index over the last 12 months.
- So far, the actions have slowed activity in housing and some other sectors, but the job market and consumer demand have remained robust.
- However, monetary policy works with a lag, so the full effects of the last eight months of rate increases may not be fully felt until 2023, when many economists anticipate a recession.
Powell acknowledged that the odds of a soft landing — the possibility that the U.S. economy averts a recession — has narrowed but is "still possible."
- "The inflation picture has become more and more challenging over the course of the year, without question," Powell said. "That means that we have to have policy be more restrictive and that narrows the path to a soft landing."
What's next: The new language in the policy statement is an acknowledgement that the central bank has already done a lot to tighten monetary policy, and a signal it will calibrate future moves to reflect that a lot has already been done that is still rippling through the economy.
- That could mean going with only an 0.5 percentage point rate hike in December, depending on what happens with economic data between now and then.
- The rate rising decision Wednesday was unanimous.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.