Fed starts inflation fight with key rate rise, more to follow

Wednesday's high-risk effort by the Federal Reserve to control the worst inflation since 1980 began. It raised its benchmark short-term rate and signaled six more rate increases this year.

Fed starts inflation fight with key rate rise, more to follow

The Fed's quarter point hike in its key interest rate, which was near zero for two years prior to the pandemic recession, is the beginning of an effort to reduce high inflation. Higher loan rates will eventually be a reality for many businesses and consumers.

In a policy statement, the central bank outlined a more aggressive approach to rate increases than many analysts expected.

According to Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, the projections indicated that seven out of 16 central bank policymakers support a minimum one-half point rate increase this year. This suggests that such a substantial increase "is a real possibility".

Powell spoke at a news conference and expressed his belief that the economy can withstand higher interest rates. He also stressed that the Fed will do whatever it takes to keep inflation below its 2% target over time. Powell warned that the economy could not recover from the pandemic recession if it does not.

The Fed chair stated that "We are acutely aware of price stability" It's actually a prerequisite for the type of labor market we want. Without price stability, maximum employment can't be sustained for any length of time.

Wednesday's Fed release also included quarterly economic projections that highlighted the possibility of extended interest rate hikes in the months ahead. The Fed's short-term rate would rise to between 1.75% & 2% by seven hikes at the end 2022. Fed officials predict four additional rate hikes in 2023 to increase its benchmark rate by 2.8%.

This would be the highest level of borrowing since March 2008. As a result, the cost of borrowing for auto loans, credit cards, and mortgage loans will rise.

Tim Duy, chief U.S. economist, SGH Macro Advisors, stated that "Clearly, inflation is moving front and center in the Fed's thinking."

According to their quarterly projections, Wednesday's release by the central bank, policymakers anticipate that inflation will remain high and end 2022 at 4.3%. Officials now predict 2.8% economic growth for this year, a decrease from the December estimate of 4%.

Many economists are concerned that the Fed might have to raise interest rates higher than they currently expect and could cause a recession.

According to its own admissions, the central bank underestimated how widespread and persistent high inflation would be after the pandemic. Many economists believe that the Fed made it more difficult by delaying raising rates.

According to the Fed, projections indicate that the Fed expects their short-term rate will be above "neutral" by next year. This is the rate at which they believe the rate does not fuel or slow down economic growth.

Roberto Perli was an economist at Piper Sandler who questioned Powell's claims that the economy can withstand higher interest rates.

Perli explained in a note to clients that "In the past whenever the Fed approached -- let alone exceeded neutrality-- the economy weakened strongly." "The danger of recession in 2023 is growing."

Powell, however, downplayed any economic setback.

He stated that "the probability of a recession within the next year" was not high.

Powell stated that he believes inflation will slow down later in the year as supply chain bottlenecks are cleared and more Americans return home to work, which would reduce upward pressure on wages.

He suggested that consumers will spend less on rate-sensitive products like cars and autos if the Fed raises rates. As credit card rates rise, Americans might also be less likely to buy. These trends could eventually decrease the demand for workers by slowing pay increases, which run at a solid 6% annually, and increasing inflation pressures.

Powell pointed out that there is a near record number of job openings. This means that there are on average 1.7 jobs for every person who is unemployed. Powell expressed confidence that the Fed could lower unemployment and increase wage growth while simultaneously reducing demand for workers.

He stated that "all signs point to a strong economy," and that "one that will thrive in the face of less accommodative monetary policy."

Initial Wall Street rallies were disrupted by the Fed's prediction of many more rate hikes over the next months. This led to a decline in stock gains and an increase in bond yields. However, stock prices quickly recovered their gains after the press conference.

Many economists believe that higher rates are needed to counter the rise in inflation.

"With the unemployment rate at 4% and inflation at 8%, the war in Ukraine likely putting more upward pressure on prices, the Fed must do this to control inflation," stated Mike Fratantoni (chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association).

Powell is leading the Fed to a dramatic U-turn. To support growth and employment during the recession and its aftermath, officials had maintained rates at an extremely low level. In December, Fed officials expected that rates would be raised only three times this year.

James Bullard, the head of Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' rate-setting committee, voted against Wednesday's decision. Bullard supported a half-point rate increase, which he has advocated in interviews .

The Fed also stated that it will begin to reduce its $9 trillion balance sheet "at a forthcoming meeting". This step will also have an effect on tightening credit for consumers and businesses.

The Fed has faced more challenges and uncertainty since its January meeting. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the price of oil, gas and wheat, as well as other commodities. China has again closed its ports and factories to stop a new epidemic of COVID. This will increase supply chain disruptions and fuel price pressures.

The sharp rise in gas prices, which have risen more than 60c to $4.31 per gallon nationwide since the invasion, will push inflation higher and slow growth. These are two contradictory trends that are notoriously hard for the Fed.


 

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