Federal Reserve officials appear to be reducing the chances of future interest rate increases, after months in which they have kept alive the possibility of further policy changes for fear that inflation will prove persistent.
Several Federal Reserve officials (including two who often push for higher interest rates) suggested Tuesday that the central bank is making progress on inflation and may be done or about to raise borrowing costs. indebtedness. Economic growth is cooling, reducing the urgency for further action.
Christopher Waller, governor of the Federal Reserve and one of the central bank’s most inflation-focused members, gave a speech Tuesday titled “Something Seems to be Giving,” an update of an earlier speech he had titled “Something’s Gotta Give.” .
“I’m encouraged by what we’ve learned in recent weeks: Something seems to be giving way and that’s the pace of the economy,” Waller said. “I am increasingly confident that policy is currently well positioned to slow the economy and get inflation back to 2 percent.”
Michelle Bowman, another Fed governor who also tends to focus on inflation, said she saw risks that factors such as higher spending on services or rising energy costs could keep inflation elevated. She said that It was still their basic expectation. that the Federal Reserve would need to raise rates even further. Still, she did not seem determined to take such a step, noting that the policy was not on a “preset course.”
“I remain willing to support raising the federal funds rate at a future meeting if incoming data indicates that progress on inflation has stalled or is insufficient to reduce inflation to 2 percent in a timely manner,” she said. Mrs. Bowman.
Taken together with other recent comments from Federal Reserve officials, the latest comments offer an increasingly clear sign that central bankers may have ended their campaign to raise interest rates in a bid to slow demand. and cool inflation. Interest rates are already set in a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent. The next meeting of the Federal Reserve will take place on Dec. 12 and 13, and investors are overwhelmingly betting that the central bank will keep rates steady, as policymakers did at their last two meetings.
Investors seemed encouraged by the comments from Federal Reserve officials. Higher interest rates increase costs for consumers and businesses, which generally weighs on markets. The two-year Treasury yield, which is sensitive to changes in investors’ expectations about interest rates, fell noticeably Tuesday morning, extending its decline into the afternoon. Yields fall as prices rise. The move initially provided a tailwind to the stock market, helping lift the S&P 500 from its previous decline to a 0.4 percent gain, before the rally died down and the index fell to an eventual rise of 0.4 percent. 0.1 percent.
Federal Reserve officials have been nervously watching the economy’s continued strength: Gross domestic product expanded at a blistering 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter. The concern has been that continued strong demand will give companies the means to continue raising prices quickly.
But recently, job growth has slowed and consumer price inflation has shown significant signs of a broad-based slowdown. This is giving policymakers more confidence that their current policy settings are aggressive enough to fully control price increases.
Still, as both Waller and Bowman made clear, Fed officials are not yet ready to definitively declare victory; the data might still surprise you. And while a recent rise in long-term interest rates had been helping to cool the economy, the move has already begun to reverse as investors predict softer policy from the Federal Reserve.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond, one of the world’s most important interest rates, has fallen sharply in recent weeks after soaring in previous months, stemming a sell-off in the stock market and increasing optimism. of investors. But higher stock prices and cheaper borrowing costs could prevent growth and inflation from slowing as quickly.
“The recent easing of financial conditions is a reminder that many factors can affect these conditions and that policymakers must be careful not to rely on such tightening to do our job,” Waller said Tuesday.