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US Fed holds, says growth slowdown is 'transitory'

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it held its benchmark interest rate after a two-day policy meeting, as had widely been expected.

It added that the recent slowdown in growth is likely temporary.

“The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labour market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilise around 2% over the medium term,” the Federal Open Market Committee said.

“While the Fed acknowledged the slowdown in the economy and consumer spending during the first quarter, they also view it as temporary. In other words, they expect to continue raising interest rates — and the next hike may come as soon as June,” Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst, said in an emailed statement.

The FOMC kept the benchmark federal funds rate at a range of 0.75% to 1%, following the 25 basis point increase in March.

Most market-watchers expect the Fed will raise rates again at its June meeting. Even with a weaker-than-expected jobs report in March, policymakers can look at the labour market’s relative long-run strength as evidence for continuing hikes.

“The Fed’s reaction function has changed significantly from the last two years as it appears to be firmly on a policy normalization track and is not reacting to every piece of high frequency economic data. It would take a dramatic slowdown in the economy to derail the Fed’s normalization plans,” Roiana Reid of Berenberg Capital Markets said in a note.

“The Fed is likely to raise rates at its June and September meetings, before announcing a change in its balance sheet policy late in the year,” she argued.

The market’s expectations for a hike in June jumped to 97.5% after the FOMC announcement, up from about 69% earlier on Wednesday, according to the World Interest Rate Probability data provided by Bloomberg.

Here’s the full Fed statement:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March indicates that the labour market has continued to strengthen even as growth in economic activity slowed. Job gains were solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate declined. Household spending rose only modestly, but the fundamentals underpinning the continued growth of consumption remained solid. Business fixed investment firmed. Inflation measured on a 12-month basis recently has been running close to the Committee’s 2 per cent longer-run objective. Excluding energy and food, consumer prices declined in March and inflation continued to run somewhat below 2 per cent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed, on balance.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labour market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilise around 2 per cent over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced. The Committee continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.

In view of realised and expected labour market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 3/4 to 1 per cent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labour market conditions and a sustained return to 2 per cent inflation.

In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realised and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 per cent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labour market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. The Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected inflation developments relative to its symmetric inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.

The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee’s holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Charles L. Evans; Stanley Fischer; Patrick Harker; Robert S. Kaplan; Neel Kashkari; and Jerome H. Powell.

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