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Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell. Photo: Pool/Getty Images

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.

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."

Go deeper

The post-pandemic economy has already arrived

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With the recession officially ending in April 2020, we're now 16 months into the recovery and the contours of the post-pandemic economy have taken shape.

Why it matters: While the coronavirus continues to infect roughly 100,000 new Americans every day, it's no longer driving the course of the economy.

2 hours ago - Health

NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Monday announced a new COVID vaccine mandate for all private companies.

Why it matters: De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said the "first-in-the-nation measure" will go into effect starting Dec. 27. It will apply to approximately 184,000 businesses.

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent.