Officials at the Federal Reserve announced a 0.25% increase in the target federal funds rate, marking a slowdown from previous 0.75% and 0.5% rate hikes meant to combat inflation.
Price levels declined slightly last month amid a decrease in energy prices: year-over-year inflation fell from 7.1% in November to 6.5% in December, marking the largest overall decline in nearly three years even as food and shelter prices continue to increase, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Members of the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement on Wednesday that “ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive.”
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell previously confirmed that officials would “moderate the pace of our rate increases.” Target interest rates now sit between 4.5% and 4.75%.
“Monetary policy affects the economy and inflation with uncertain lags, and the full effects of our rapid tightening so far are yet to be felt,” he said. “Given our progress in tightening policy, the timing of that moderation is far less significant than the questions of how much further we will need to raise rates to control inflation, and the length of time it will be necessary to hold policy at a restrictive level.”
Rate hikes increase the cost of borrowing money for consumers and businesses, decreasing inflationary pressures as a result of lower aggregate demand. The effects of higher interest rates are especially noticeable in the housing sector, where 30-year fixed mortgage rates soared from 3% at the beginning of last year to 7% in October before decreasing to roughly 6%, according to data from government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac.
Monetary policymakers are seeking to reverse nearly three years of aggressive monetary stimulus, including near-zero target federal funds rates. Officials raised rates by 0.75% on four consecutive occasions before implementing a 0.5% increase at the end of last year.
The Federal Open Market Committee expects that efforts to achieve 2% inflation, the benchmark largely maintained for three decades before the lockdown-induced recession, will take “some time,” as revealed by minutes from their December meeting. “Participants generally observed that a restrictive policy stance would need to be maintained until the incoming data provided confidence that inflation was on a sustained downward path,” a summary said. “In view of the persistent and unacceptably high level of inflation, several participants commented that historical experience cautioned against prematurely loosening monetary policy.”
Inflation has diminished buying power among American households and increased the extent to which they utilize debt to make purchases. Rising price levels have outpaced nominal wage increases, producing a 1.7% year-over-year decline in real average hourly earnings as of December, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The latest rate hike comes after the economy grew at a 2.9% annualized rate in the fourth quarter of 2022, surpassing expectations even as recessionary concerns loom. Economists are divided on whether the nation will soon witness a contraction: Bank of America Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett said in a report that a recession would occur in the first half of the year before markets attain a “much more solid footing,” while an outlook from Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius noted analysts at the company believe “there are strong reasons to expect positive growth in coming quarters.”