Interest Rates Stay Put Again

If inflation keeps heading in the right direction, cuts could come this year, Fed Chair Powell indicated.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks at a Jan. 31 press conference. Screenshot by Gabriel Frank

Interest rates will stay where they are for now. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday that the central bank’s Open Markets Committee has decided to keep the federal funds rate at its current target range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent. The latest move kicks off a year during which the Fed is expected to cut rates at least three times, reducing that range by as much as 100 basis points.

Despite larger domestic and international political turmoil, Fed Chair Jerome Powell remained confident about the economy’s performance, particularly where inflation is concerned. “Inflation has eased notably, but remains above our longer run goal of 2 percent,” Powell noted at a press conference.

Recent data backs up Powell’s comment. In January, the Consumer Price Index increased by 0.3 percent, the same rate as November. Over the past 12 months, that index had increased by 3.4 percent, prior to seasonal adjustment. At the same time, the core Personal Consumption Expenditures index ticked up 2.9 percent, within 100 basis points of the Fed’s 2 percent target. The Fed projects that the baseline inflation rate will be 2.4 percent at the end of the year.

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Confident in the economy’s progress and the declining inflation rate, Powell all but confirmed that the current target range is at its peak. “We believe that our policy rate is likely at its peak for this tightening cycle,” he said.

Despite not committing to a specific timeline for rate cuts, Powell hinted strongly that they are on the radar. “It’s not that we’re looking for better data, but for a continuation of the good data that we have been seeing,” Powell added.

But some larger forces may yet throw a wrench in these plans. At issue are such concerns as attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, as well as slowdowns in the Suez and Panama canals. Powell suggested that rates are likely to stay where they are in the near term. “The economy has surprised forecasters in many ways since the pandemic, and ongoing progress to our objective is not assured,” Powell noted. “We are prepared to remain the current target range for longer, if appropriate,” he added.

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