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Fed holds rates steady, indicates 3 cuts coming in 2024

Fed holds rates steady, indicates three cuts coming in 2024

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday held its key interest rate steady for the third straight time and set the table for multiple cuts to come in 2024 and beyond.

With the inflation rate easing and the economy holding in, policymakers on the Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to keep the benchmark overnight borrowing rate in a targeted range between 5.25%-5.5%. 

Along with the decision to stay on hold, committee members penciled in at least three rate cuts in 2024, assuming quarter percentage point increments. That’s less than market pricing of four, but more aggressive than what officials had previously indicated. 

Markets had widely anticipated the decision to stay put, which could bring to close a cycle that has seen 11 hikes, pushing the fed funds rate to its highest level in more than 22 years. There was uncertainty, though, about how ambitious the FOMC might be regarding policy easing. 

The committee’s “dot plot” of individual members’ expectations indicates another four cuts in 2025, or a full percentage point. Three more reductions in 2026 would take the fed funds rate down to between 2%-2.25%, close to the long-run outlook, though there was considerable dispersion in the estimates for the final two years. On net, assuming one more hike this year, the committee had indicated just one cut in 2023, in the last update. 

In a possible nod that hikes are over, the statement said that the committee would take multiple factors into account for “any” more policy tightening, a word that had not appeared previously. 

Investors will be looking to hear Chair Jerome Powell’s comments during a 2:30 p.m. ET press conference.

Along with the interest rate hikes, the Fed has been allowing up to $95 billion a month in proceeds from maturing bonds to roll off is balance sheet. That process has continued, and there has been no indication the Fed is willing to curtail that portion of policy tightening. 

The developments come amid a brightening picture for inflation that had spiked to a 40-year high in mid-2022. 

In their post-meeting statement, the committee added the qualifier that inflation has “eased over the past year” while maintaining its description of prices as “elevated.” Fed officials see core inflation falling to 3.2% in 2023 and 2.4% in 2024, then finally getting back to the 2% target in 2026.

Economic data released this week showed both consumer and wholesale prices were little changed in November. By some measures, though, the Fed is nearing its 2% inflation target. Bank of America calculations indicate that the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge will be around 3.1% year over year in November, and actually could hit a 2% six-month annualized rate, meeting the central bank’s goal. 

The statement also noted that the economy “has slowed,” after saying in November that activity had “expanded at a strong pace.” 

Committee members upgraded gross domestic product to grow at a 2.6% annualized pace in 2023, a half percentage point increase from the last update in September. Officials see GDP at 1.4% in 2024, roughly unchanged from the previous outlook. Projections for the unemployment rate were largely unchanged, at 3.8% in 2023 and rising to 4.1% in subsequent years.  

Officials have stressed their willingness to hike rates again of inflation flares up. However, most have said they can use patience now as they watch the impact the previous policy tightening moves are having on the U.S. economy.  

Stubbornly high prices have exacted a political toll on President Joe Biden, whose approval rating has suffered in large part because of negative sentiment on how he has handled the economy. There had been some speculation that the Fed could be reluctant to make any dramatic policy years during a presidential election year, which looms large in 2024. 

However, with real rates, or the difference between the fed funds rate and inflation, running high, the Fed would be more likely to act if the inflation data continues to cooperate.

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