Federal Reserve continues to adopt a cautious approach

Tue May 14 2024
Gil Ecker (242 articles)
Federal Reserve continues to adopt a cautious approach

The Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has reiterated the central bank’s intention to maintain interest rates at their highest level in over two decades. This decision is based on the need for concrete evidence that the recent setbacks in inflation will be temporary.

Powell expressed his expectation of a further decline in inflation, but he admitted to a decrease in confidence regarding this outlook. Consequently, the Fed is unable to provide any certainty regarding the possibility or timing of interest rate reductions.

“We will need to wait and observe the outcome of the inflation data,” he stated during a moderated discussion in Amsterdam on Tuesday.

In 2024, Fed officials started the year with a sense of optimism, hoping to soon bring down interest rates from their highest point in twenty years. Following a string of lower inflation figures towards the end of 2023, there was a glimmer of hope that a couple more months of positive data would give officials the confidence they needed to believe that inflation would eventually hit their 2% target. This, in turn, would pave the way for a potential reduction in rates.

Following three consecutive underwhelming inflation reports, Powell and his colleagues decided to essentially start over.

“We were not anticipating a seamless journey,” but Powell stated on Tuesday that recent readings exceeded our expectations. The Fed leader expressed confidence that current interest rates are sufficient to curb demand and reduce inflation. As a result, the Fed will adopt a patient approach and allow restrictive policy to take effect.

Many officials have expressed their belief that the central bank will not need to resume interest rate increases. Officials have maintained their benchmark federal-funds rate at a range between 5.25% and 5.5%, the highest in two decades, since their last rate increase in July.

In recent weeks, Powell had suggested that the central bank would maintain interest rates at their current level for an extended period if inflation did not decrease in the coming months. According to the speaker, a potential scenario for the Fed to consider reducing rates would be if there was an unforeseen decline in the labor market.

In March, the measure of inflation that excludes the impact of food and energy prices decreased to 2.8% compared to the previous year. This is a decline from the 4.8% recorded in March 2023. However, the 12-month measure fails to fully capture the more recent setbacks: During the six-month period ending in March, there was an increase in prices at an annualized rate of 3.0%, which is higher than the 1.9% rate observed in the previous six months ending in December. The Federal Reserve aims to achieve a 2% inflation rate over a period of time.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department will release an important piece of data: the consumer-price index for April. The measure of producer prices for last month, reported Tuesday before Powell’s speech, had varying implications for the Fed’s preferred gauge, which will be released later this month.

Meanwhile, there has been a slight increase in the unemployment rate over the past year, rising to 3.9% in April compared to 3.4% one year earlier. Job growth has remained consistent and economic activity has exceeded expectations, in part due to the rise in immigration.

With the most aggressive series of interest rate increases in four decades under their belt, Fed officials are now faced with the challenge of navigating two significant risks. The stakes are undeniably high as they strive to make the right decisions. One issue is that they tend to tighten monetary policy prematurely, which can lead to inflation becoming firmly established at a level higher than their desired 2% target. Another possibility is that they wait for the labor market to collapse due to the impact of higher rates.

Gil Ecker

Gil Ecker

Gil Ecker is Charting & Technical Analyst. He has more than 10 years experience of Global Stock Markets.