The Federal Reserve unanimously approved a quarter-point interest rate hike Wednesday, slowing the pace of its increases in a clear sign that the central bank is seeing progress in its fierce battle with inflation.
The decision, at the conclusion of the Federal Open Market Committee’s first meeting of 2023, comes after months of jumbo-sized rate increases intended to cool the economy, and marks the return to a more traditional interest-rate policy.
Since the last Fed meeting in December, two economic trends have indicated that the central bank’s mission to cool the economy and stall price increases is working: Recent data on wage growth and inflation have been encouraging and economic growth signals have become concerning. The prices of many goods that consumers binged on during the pandemic have started to fall now that consumer demand has shifted to services. Energy costs have also dropped, and the housing market has slowed.
Fed officials nodded towards those trends in its statement on Wednesday, writing that “inflation has eased somewhat but remains elevated.”
And while Fed officials are slowing rate hikes after months of unusually aggressive action, the central bank is far from declaring victory.
In his post-meeting press conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell signaled that while there’s still a long way to go in the fight against inflation, he believes the trend is moving in the right direction.
Still, Powell warned economy watchers that “the job is not fully done” and that the labor market remains too tight for his liking. it would be “very premature” to think “we really got this,” he said, adding that unless the economic trajectory changes drastically, he doesn’t expect to cut rates this year.
Wednesday’s statement included language that made it clear policymakers expect that more hikes will be necessary to temper inflation. “The Committee anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2 percent over time,” they wrote. The “extent” of these “future increases,” they said will depend on a number of economic and financial factors.
While those trends could make the case for slowing rate hikes after months of unusually aggressive action, the central bank is far from declaring victory. It takes time for monetary policy to take effect and for supply and demand to rebalance. Senior Fed officials like Vice Chair Lael Brainard and Governor Christopher Waller have in recent weeks stressed the need to see six months of positive data before they stop hiking rates.
Powell echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying: “I continue to think that it is very difficult to manage the risk of doing too little, and finding out in six or 12 months that we actually were close but didn’t get the job done.”
US markets jumped following the press conference, indicating the investors expect a more dovish Fed going forward. The S&P 500 closed the first day of February 1.1% higher after notching its best January in four years.