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Fed Holds Rates Steady, Signals Prolonged Elevated Rates Amid Upgraded Growth Projections

Jerome Powell took office as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in February 2018. He was sworn in on May 23, 2022 for a second term as Chair ending May 15, 2026. Powell served as an assistant secretary and as undersecretary of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush. There, he was responsible for policy on financial institutions, the Treasury debt market, and related areas. Before joining the administration, he worked as a lawyer and investment banker in New York City.

The Federal Reserve, in its recent monetary policy meeting, opted to hold interest rates steady, reiterating its data-dependent approach while signaling the potential for higher rates in 2024 and 2025. This direction comes as the U.S. economy displays resilience, with the labor market and inflation metrics playing pivotal roles in the Fed’s current stance.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Unchanged Rates, Yet Elevated Outlook: The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) unanimously voted to maintain the benchmark rate in its target range of 5.25%-5.5%, a level not seen in 22 years. This was in line with market expectations. However, the backdrop of a robust U.S. economy, persistent inflation, and a strong labor force prompted the Fed to project notably higher rates in 2024 and 2025.
  2. The Dot Plot Revisions: The latest ‘dot plot’ — the Fed‘s tool for interest rate projections — revealed an anticipation for one more rate hike in 2023. However, the forecasts for 2024 and 2025 saw an upward revision by half a percentage point. This change underscores the Fed’s belief that rates might remain elevated for an extended period.
  3. Powell Emphasizes Soft Landing: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell highlighted the FOMC‘s aspiration for a soft economic landing, mitigating substantial harm to the labor market. The committee’s augmented growth projections anticipate a peak jobless rate of 4.1%, a more favorable outlook than the previously forecasted 4.5%.
  4. Balanced Tone Amid Hawkish Projections: Although the ‘dot plot’ exuded a hawkish sentiment, Chair Powell’s commentary leaned more balanced. He stressed the need for caution, especially as the committee approaches a potential rate peak. Powell reiterated the committee’s intent not to adhere strictly to projections, emphasizing prevailing uncertainties in the economic landscape. On the topic of inflation, Powell’s stance was clear and unwavering: the public detests inflation.
  5. Market Reactions: The immediate aftermath of the Fed‘s announcement saw Treasury two-year yields rise to levels not witnessed since 2006. The stock market displayed negative sentiment with both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq 100 experiencing downward pressure. Meanwhile, oil prices retracted from their previous rally that propelled Brent crude to $95 a barrel.

Additional Insights:

  • The Federal Reserve‘s announcement was closely observed by Jeffrey Roach of LPL Financial. He noted Powell’s repeated emphasis on proceeding with caution, underscoring concerns within the committee regarding the potential delayed effects of monetary policy on the economy.
  • According to Bloomberg Intelligence’s Ira Jersey, the sentiment surrounding the Fed’s announcement was neutral, albeit slightly less dovish than prior meetings. This sentiment is attributable to the updated ‘dot plot’ and the more bullish summary of economic projections.
  • Peter Tchir of Academy Securities summarized the event with an observation that the Fed seems to display an aversion to rate cuts. Instead, the current inclination is towards maintaining elevated rates for an extended duration.

In the global backdrop, it’s worth noting that the Fed isn’t the only central bank under the spotlight. The Bank of Japan is set to make its policy decision on September 22nd.

Given the Fed’s announcements and the current state of the global economy, traders and investors will be keenly monitoring future data releases and central bank decisions. The interplay of economic growth, inflation, and labor market dynamics will undoubtedly shape monetary policy trajectories in the months to come.

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