The Fed moves up its timeline for rate hikes as inflation rises

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday considerably raised its expectations for inflation this year and brought forward the time frame on when it will next raise interest rates.

However, the central bank gave no indication as to when it will begin cutting back on its aggressive bond-buying program, though Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that officials discussed the issue at the meeting.

“You can think of this meeting that we had as the ‘talking about talking about’ meeting,” Powell said in a phrase that recalled a statement he made a year ago that the Fed wasn’t “thinking about thinking about raising rates.”

As expected, the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee unanimously left its benchmark short-term borrowing rate anchored near zero. But officials indicated that rate hikes could come as soon as 2023, after saying in March that it saw no increases until at least 2024. The so-called dot plot of individual member expectations pointed to two hikes in 2023.

Though the Fed raised its headline inflation expectation to 3.4%, a full percentage point higher than the March projection, the post-meeting statement continued to say that inflation pressures are “transitory.” The raised expectations come amid the biggest rise in consumer prices in about 13 years.

“This is not what the market expected,” said James McCann, deputy chief economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments. “The Fed is now signaling that rates will need to rise sooner and faster, with their forecast suggesting two hikes in 2023. This change in stance jars a little with the Fed’s recent claims that the recent spike in inflation is temporary.”

Markets reacted to the Fed news, with stocks falling and government bond yields higher as investors anticipated tighter Fed policy ahead, including the likelihood that the bond purchases will slow as soon as this year.

“If you’re going to get two rate hikes in 2023, you have to start tapering fairly soon to reach that goal,” said Kathy Jones, head of fixed income at Charles Schwab. “It takes maybe 10 months to a year to taper at a moderate pace. Then you’re looking at we need to start tapering maybe later this year, and if the economy continues to run a little bit hot, rate hikes sooner rather than later.”

Even with the raised forecast for this year, the committee still sees inflation trending to its 2% goal over the long run.

“Our expectation is these high inflation readings now will abate,” Powell said at his post-meeting news conference.

Powell also cautioned about reading too much into the dot-plot, saying it is “not a great forecaster of future rate moves. “Lift-off is well into the future,” he said.

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