The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates by 0.75% as the central bank attempts to avoid a deep recession.
The decision to move by 0.75% matched the magnitude of the Fed’s last move in June, which was its largest single-meeting rate increase since 1994. Wednesday’s decision was unanimously agreed upon by voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee.
The Fed has now moved in four consecutive meetings to increase borrowing costs in America, extending its effort to dampen household and business spending. The goal: to wrangle inflation running at rates unseen since the early 1980s.
Short-term borrowing rates are now between 2.25% and 2.50%, comparable to levels in 2019.
“Recent indicators of spending and production have softened,” the Fed said in its policy announcement.
“Nonetheless, job gains have been robust in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures.”
The Fed again said that it “anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate.”
Summer readings of inflation have yet to show a letting up of inflationary pressures. In June, prices in the U.S. rose by 9.1% on a year-over-year basis — the fastest pace since November 1981.
Fed policymakers have said that one driver of high inflation remains the war in Ukraine, where economic sanctions have led to an increase in energy prices globally. But Fed officials have acknowledged that the rapid pace of price increases domestically is also the result of demand stimulated by its pandemic-era policy of low rates.
Those inflationary factors will make it difficult for the Fed to achieve its immediate goal of lowering inflation without triggering high job losses. A June reading on the labor market showed the unemployment rate at a relatively low 3.6%, almost near pre-pandemic lows.
As the Fed raises borrowing costs, concerns are building that the pullback in economic activity will squeeze businesses into layoffs. The FOMC continued to describe job gains as “robust” while inflation “remains elevated.”
Wednesday’s interest rate increase also comes a day before a closely-watched government data release on economic growth in the second quarter of the year. Following a quarter of negative growth in the first quarter, a second consecutive negative reading may further entrench concerns that the U.S. economy is already in a recession.
But the uncertainty over the speed and magnitude of rate hikes has led to a flurry of speculation over how high the Fed can raise rates — before a deterioration in economic activity forces the Fed back into rate cuts.
The central bank’s own projections from June estimate the Fed will need to raise rates to roughly 3.8% next year to pull off a slowdown in inflation, although those forecasts may now be outdated.
The Fed’s efforts to undo its pandemic-era stimulus also involves unwinding some of the assets that it purchased during 2020 and 2021. The Fed on Wednesday did not make any changes to a previously announced plan for the unwind, which will ramp up the pace of its asset rolloffs to about $95 billion per month starting in September.
As of earlier in the year, the Fed’s asset holdings totaled about $9 trillion.
The Fed will release updated economic projections alongside the next scheduled policy announcement on September 21.
Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the Fed, economics, and banking for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.
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