News and Analysis

As High Inflation Persists, Federal Reserve Unveils First Official Plan To Roll Back Stimulus
Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, departs the Hart Senate Office building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. Democrats and Republicans must decide in the next day or two how far to take their deadlock over the U.S. debt limit, which is pushing the country perilously close to a catastrophic default.
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After nearly two years of aggressive monetary stimulus, the Federal Reserve announced plans to roll back its monthly bond purchases.

In order to stimulate the economy following the onset of COVID-19 and the lockdown-induced recession in March 2020, the Federal Reserve pegged a near-zero target interest rate and began buying $120 billion in assets each month. 

Central bankers have been hinting at a taper for several months. During a Wednesday meeting, however, officials revealed the first step in rolling back monetary stimulus: cutting bond purchases by $15 billion in both November and December.

According to a Federal Open Market Committee statement:

In light of the substantial further progress the economy has made toward the Committee’s goals since last December, the Committee decided to begin reducing the monthly pace of its net asset purchases by $10 billion for Treasury securities and $5 billion for agency mortgage-backed securities.

The Committee judges that similar reductions in the pace of net asset purchases will likely be appropriate each month, but it is prepared to adjust the pace of purchases if warranted by changes in the economic outlook. The Federal Reserve’s ongoing purchases and holdings of securities will continue to foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.

Many economists and business leaders point to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive quantitative easing as a primary driver for high inflation in the United States. 

Most recently, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman told the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that “the Fed should taper immediately and begin raising rates as soon as possible.” His firm’s report observes that inflation measures “are substantially higher today than at the beginning of prior rate hike cycles.”

“A ‘wait and see’ approach to raising interest rates creates significant risks given the substantial progress to date on employment and inflation combined with the unprecedented economic backdrop,” argues the report, which also draws policymakers’ attention to warnings from the Bank of England and International Monetary Fund.

Likewise, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned advanced economies to “remain vigilant” for signs of “persistent inflation.”

“Annual inflation has risen to over 5% in the United States but remains at relatively low rates in many other advanced economies, particularly in Europe and Asia,” explains the group. “Part of the current rise in inflation reflects base effects, following price declines in the early phase of the pandemic.”

“Near-term inflation risks are on the upside, particularly if pent-up demand by consumers is stronger than anticipated, or if supply shortages take a long time to overcome. The impact of past increases in shipping costs and commodity prices is already sizeable in the G20 economies, accounting for much of the rise in inflation over the past year, and is likely to linger through much of 2022 even if there are no further cost increases.”

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