The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by a half-point Wednesday, in a strong, but expected move to slow surging inflation even as economic growth went negative in the first quarter.
The central bank is expected to continue raising the rate through the end of the year after holding it at or near zero for several years. It normally raises or lowers the rate in quarter-point increments, and the half-point increase, which followed a quarter-point boost in March, was the biggest jump since May, 2000. The current federal funds target rate is between .75% and 1%. Some federal reserve bankers want the rate raised as much as 2.5% by the end of the year, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said more half-point increases are on the table.
“Inflation is much too high,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a Wednesday news conference. “We understand the hardship it is causing, and we’re moving expeditiously to bring it back down. We have both the tools we need and the resolve that it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses.”
Joe Biden inherited a robust economy from President Trump and has managed to fully squander it— leading Americans into stagflation.
— GOP (@GOP) May 2, 2022
This time a year ago, Powell was insisting that inflation, driven by huge deficits and increases in the money supply, was “transitory” and not a threat to the economy. But last November, he ate his words in testimony before the Senate.
“I think it’s — it’s probably a good time to retire that word and try to explain more clearly what we mean,” Powell said.
Increases in the Fed’s rate bring higher interest rates for consumers on credit cards, loans and mortgages and can slow the economy. The Fed’s rate hike in March has caused mortgage rates to spike to over 5% from the mid 3% range. But without the increases, inflation, already nearing double-digits year-over-year and at a 40-year high, could continue to rise.
While the rate hikes have been baked in to the stock market, investors reacted favorably to the move, sending the Dow Jones index soaring nearly 1,000 points, or almost 3%. The tech-heavy NASDAQ also jumped 3%.
The Fed and the Biden administration are struggling to curb inflation without jeopardizing economic growth. Last month, the federal government announced that economic growth had gone negative at -1.4% for the first quarter of the tear. Two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth defines a recession, and a recession coupled with inflation is called “stagflation” by economists.
“Joe Biden inherited a robust economy from President Trump and has managed to fully squander it — leading Americans into stagflation,” the Republican National Committee tweeted earlier this week.
Powell told reporters he believes the Fed can lower inflation without triggering a recession.
“We have a good chance to have a soft or softish landing,” he said. “The economy is strong and is well-positioned to handle tighter monetary policy.”
The Fed also revealed plans to shrink its asset holdings, after buying trillions in U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities over the last two-plus years in a bid to limit the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic to financial markets. Beginning in June, the bank will move up to $47.5 billion per month off its balance sheet. The move is aimed at reducing the Fed’s $9 trillion in holdings.