The Federal Reserve didn’t change interest rates on Wed. because existing tight “financial and credit conditions … are likely to weigh on economic activity.”
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Reserve kept its key short-term interest rate unchanged Wednesday for a second straight time but left the door open to further rate hikes if inflation pressures should accelerate in the months ahead.
The Fed said in a statement after its latest meeting that it would keep its benchmark rate at about 5.4%, its highest level in 22 years. Since launching the most aggressive series of rate hikes in four decades in March 2022 to fight inflation, the Fed has pulled back and has now raised rates only once since May.
The statement noted that recent tumult in the financial markets has sent longer-term interest rates up to near 16-year highs and contributed to higher borrowing rates across the economy.
“Tighter financial and credit conditions for households and businesses,” it said, “are likely to weigh on economic activity.”
That reference echoed recent comments by Fed officials that higher yields – or interest rates – on the 10-year Treasury note could impose a dampening impact on the economy, cool inflation and substitute for an additional rate hike by the Fed.
Long-term Treasury yields have soared since July, the last time the Fed raised rates, swelling the costs of auto loans, credit card borrowing and many forms of business loans. Nationally, the average long-term fixed mortgage rate is nearing 8%, its highest level in 23 years.
Economists at Wall Street banks have estimated that sharp losses in the stock market and higher bond yields could have a depressive effect on the economy equal to the impact of three or four quarter-point rate hikes by the Fed.
Those tighter credit conditions, though, have yet to cool the economy or slow hiring as much as the Fed had expected. Growth soared at a 4.9% annual pace in the July-September quarter, powered by robust consumer spending, and hiring in September was strong. On Wednesday, the government said employers posted a sizable 9.6 million job openings last month, well below the peak of early last year but still sharply above pre-pandemic levels.
Consumer inflation has dropped from a year-over-year peak of 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.7% last month. But recent data suggests that inflation remains persistently above the Fed’s 2% target.
Chair Jerome Powell and other Fed officials have responded to the surprising evidence of economic strength by saying the Fed will monitor incoming data for any hints that inflation will either further subside or remain chronically above its target level. In the meantime, most Fed watchers expect the central bank to keep rates unchanged in December as well.
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