Federal Reserve Resumes Rate Hikes, Leaves Room for Further Increases
In a widely anticipated move, the Federal Reserve has once again raised interest rates, signalling its commitment to curbing inflationary pressures. This latest rate hike, the 11th since March 2022, brings the target range for the Fed's benchmark federal funds rate to 5.25% to 5.5%, the highest level seen in over two decades. The decision was a unanimous one, and it reflects the Fed's ongoing efforts to keep the US economy on a stable trajectory.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell, in his post-meeting press conference, emphasised the importance of incoming data in determining future rate hikes. While acknowledging the positive impact of the previous rate increases in taming inflation, Powell stressed that policymakers still have a long way to go to achieve their target of 2% inflation. He highlighted the need to carefully analyse a range of economic reports, including two jobs reports, two consumer-price inflation reports, and data on employment costs before the next policy meeting in September.
Balancing the Economy and Inflation
The Federal Reserve's aggressive tightening campaign, initiated early last year, aimed to combat surging inflation, which reached levels not seen in four decades in 2022. After a pause in rate hikes in June to assess the effects of previous moves, policymakers signalled their intention for two more increases by the end of this year. However, Powell's latest remarks indicate that the future path of rate increases remains data-dependent and subject to economic conditions.
Market Reaction and Forecasts
Market participants reacted calmly to the news of the rate hike. Stocks advanced, showing resilience amid the Fed's tightening measures. Treasury yields and the dollar fell as investors took Powell's comments as a sign that the tightening cycle might be approaching its conclusion. Swaps traders priced in a slightly over 50% probability of another quarter-point rate increase before the year's end, suggesting that expectations for further rate hikes have diminished.
Bloomberg Economics analysts believe that while the majority of Fed officials want to maintain the option for another rate hike, Powell's somewhat dovish tone during the press conference indicates a willingness to skip a hike at the September meeting if inflation data continue to remain soft.
US Economic Performance and Outlook
The US economy has demonstrated impressive resilience in the face of higher interest rates so far. Robust job growth, strong vehicle sales, and healthy economic activity have contributed to the Fed's assessment of "moderate" economic growth, an upgrade from the "modest" pace reported in June.
While inflation has started to ease, the central bank remains concerned about "core" inflation, which excludes food and energy prices. Powell singled out service-sector inflation, impacted by tight labour markets, as an area where price pressures remain elevated.
Powell's Optimism and Caution
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell expressed optimism about the economy's recent performance, citing signs of a slowdown in inflation without causing significant damage to economic growth. However, he also warned that achieving the Fed's 2% inflation target might require a period of below-trend growth and some softening of labour market conditions.
Future Monetary Policy Decisions
The Federal Open Market Committee's statement reiterated its commitment to assessing additional information before deciding on the extent of further policy firming needed to reach its inflation target. The central bank will continue to adopt a meeting-by-meeting approach to adjust interest rates as required by economic developments.
The Fed's messaging has created a diverse range of expectations among investors and analysts. While some foresee the possibility of another rate hike at the September meeting, others believe that the Fed may pause further increases if inflation remains subdued.
The dollar's weakness against major currencies after the Fed's rate decision has reinforced the views of dollar bears, who anticipate a slowdown in the US economy and a weaker greenback.
As the Fed's tightening cycle nears a potential end, asset managers have increased their short dollar positions, and hedge funds have flipped to a net short position on the US currency.
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The Federal Reserve's decision to resume interest rate hikes and its data-dependent approach to future policy decisions have implications for global markets. Market participants will closely monitor economic data and the Fed's messaging to gauge the potential for further rate increases. As the US economy continues to show strength while facing inflationary pressures, investors remain cautiously optimistic about the outlook for asset performance in the coming months.
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