Coverage: Fed raises interest rates, signals more to come
The U.S. Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates on Wednesday and forecast at least two more hikes for 2018, highlighting its growing confidence that tax cuts and government spending will boost the economy and inflation and spur more aggressive future tightening.
Jonathan Spicer and Jason Lange of Reuters had the news:
In its first policy meeting under new Fed chief Jerome Powell, the U.S. central bank indicated that inflation should finally move higher after years below its 2 percent target and that the economy had recently gained momentum.
The Fed also raised the estimated longer-term “neutral” rate, the level at which monetary policy neither boosts nor slows the economy, a touch, in a sign the current gradual rate hike cycle could go on longer than previously thought.
“The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,” the Fed said in a statement at the end of a two-day meeting in which it lifted its benchmark overnight lending rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent.
Powell, who took over from former Fed chief Janet Yellen in early February, said the central bank was staying on a path of gradual rate increases but needed to be on guard against inflation.
Heather Long of The Washington Post noted that interest rates are the highest they have been since 2008:
Americans should expect even faster growth and lower unemployment ahead, Fed officials said. Unemployment is now expected to fall to 3.8 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2019, which would be the lowest level since 1969.
Markets rose after the Fed announcement, but had flattened by Wednesday’s close, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 up 0.1 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.18 percent.
“Fiscal policy has become more stimulative. Ongoing job gains are boosting incomes and confidence, [and] foreign growth is on a firm trajectory,” Powell said in his first news conference, which was significantly shorter than those of his predecessor Janet Yellen.
There’s growing concern among economists that the GOP tax cuts and the additional boost in federal government spending could cause the U.S. economy to overheat, requiring the Fed to hike rates even more than three times this year. Of the 15 Fed board members, six anticipate the Fed will hike four times this year and one believes five hikes will be necessary. It’s not quite enough to tip the official forecast to four rate increases, but it’s getting close. The vote to increase the rate Wednesday was a unanimous 8-0.
Craig Torres of Bloomberg News reported that Fed policymakers are split on the number of future rate hikes:
The latest set of quarterly forecasts forecasts showed that policy makers were divided over the outlook for the benchmark interest rate in 2018. Seven officials projected at least four quarter-point hikes would be appropriate this year, while eight expected three or fewer increases to be warranted.
In the forecasts, U.S. central bankers projected a median federal funds rate of 2.9 percent by the end of 2019, implying three rate increases next year, compared with two 2019 moves seen in the last round of forecasts in December. They saw rates at 3.4 percent in 2020, up from 3.1 percent in December, according to the median estimate.
The S&P 500 Index of U.S. stocks stayed higher after the release, while the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes rose slightly, to 2.91 percent. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index was lower.
In another change to the statement, the Fed said inflation on an annual basis is “expected to move up in coming months,” after saying “move up this year” in the January statement. Price gains are still expected to stabilize around the Fed’s 2 percent target over the medium term, the FOMC said.