Feds leave rates unchanged

The Federal Reserve left borrowing costs unchanged, continuing to delay any rate moves amid persistently low inflation.

The U.S. central bank voted unanimously Wednesday to maintain its benchmark interest rate in a range of 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent, a move that many anticipated despite stronger-than-expected growth in the first quarter of 2019 and an unemployment rate near a half-century low.

“Economic activity rose at a solid rate,” while job growth continued to be “solid, on average, in recent months,” the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said in its post-meeting statement released Wednesday in Washington. “Overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy have declined and are running below 2 percent.”

Inflation weakness driving Fed’s patience

Following their April 30-May 1 gathering, however, Fed officials signaled that the primary driver for holding the federal funds rate steady is now inflation – and specifically why it’s continued to register below the Fed’s target during an expansion set to become the longest on record. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said during the press conference following the meeting that those global risks had “moderated” since officials last met.

The Fed in its post-meeting statement got rid of any language saying that the economy had “slowed” from its previous robust pace and that inflation remained “near” its 2 percent target. They also noted that household spending had “slowed.”

Prices excluding food and energy, as measured by the Fed’s preferred gauge, cooled in March to 1.6 percent, the slowest pace since January 2018, according to the Department of Commerce.

“Those aren’t conditions under which the Fed feels compelled to change interest rates in either direction,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “The economy looks better than it did when the Fed last met in March, but with inflation readings continuing to decelerate, the Fed is no closer to resuming rate hikes.”

Pressure mounting for a rate cut

The Fed’s decision comes amid President Trump’s repeated calls for the U.S. central bank to cut interest rates. The chief executive on Tuesday renewed his requests in a tweet, urging the Fed to lower borrowing costs by one percentage point to send the economy “up like a rocket.”

The markets are also looking for signs of a cut. Fed watchers are betting there’s nearly a 30-percent chance that the U.S. central bank will cut rates at some point this year, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

Officials, however, gave no indication of whether their next move could be a cut.  “We think our policy stance is appropriate, and we don’t see a strong reason for moving in one direction or the other,” Powell said.

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