In an effort to combat a decades-high surge in inflation, the Federal Reserve will move to raise interest rates “soon,” officials said at the end of a two-day policy meeting Wednesday—a largely expected move seeking to temper concerns about more hawkish policy amid a stock-market rout fueled by the central bank’s reversal of pandemic-era stimulus measures.
In a Wednesday afternoon statement, the Federal Open Market Committee said it would keep the federal funds rate unchanged at historically low levels between 0% and 0.25%, but that it would be appropriate to raise the rate “soon” with inflation well above 2% and a strong labor market.
The Fed said it expects to end its pandemic-era bond-buying program by early March “in light of the progress the economy has made”; for more than a year, the Fed had been buying at least $80 billion of Treasurys and $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities every month to help stimulate investment and spur the economy.
Officials, led by Fed Chair Jerome Powell, also outlined a plan to begin reducing the Fed’s nearly $9 trillion balance sheet after the first interest-rate hike—the prospects of which sparked a broad market selloff earlier this month.
In emailed comments, Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride called the balance sheet reduction a “more significant” reversal of the Fed’s easy-money policy, cautioning a combination of the two “will complete the transition from going full throttle to putting the brakes on the economy.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Powell confirmed Fed officials will decide whether to raise interest rates at their next meeting in March, adding that they are currently “of the mind” to do so, and that they haven’t decided on the timing and pace of shrinking the balance sheet.
Stocks fell within minutes of the announcement, with the S&P 500 paring a daily gain of 2% to trade up about 1% by 1:20 p.m. EST.
“While higher interest rates increase borrowing costs for all businesses, they also make firms’ projected profits worth less in investors’ valuation models,” explains Nigel Green, the CEO of $12 billion wealth advisory DeVere Group. “This is exacerbated for tech and other growth stocks whose peak earnings are not expected for years to come.”
The S&P is on track for its worst start to a year in history after stocks plunged this month when the Fed revealed it could move more aggressively to remove pandemic-era stimulus measures. “Stocks have been under pressure as many investors began to fear a trading life without a Fed safety net,” notes Oanda analyst Edward Moya. Though Fed officials project only three interest rate hikes this year, Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius expects the central bank will actually hike interest rates four—or even five—times this year, given the Fed’s “greater sense of urgency” around inflation in recent months. The S&P and Nasdaq are down about 8% and 13%, respectively, so far this month.
What To Watch For
A detailed summary of this week’s Fed meeting is set to be released on February 17, with the central bank’s next two-day policy meeting slated to end on March 17.
As stocks struggle in anticipation of the Fed’s looming interest rate hikes, the market’s reaction will govern how less-accommodating policy in the United States spills over to other countries, and particularly emerging markets, the International Monetary Fund wrote in a Tuesday report. “Any miscommunication or misunderstanding of [the Fed’s] changes may provoke a flight to safety, raising spreads for riskier borrowers and putting undue pressure on emerging market currencies, firms and fiscal positions,” researchers wrote—citing the Fed’s removal of pandemic-era stimulus as a primary concern both domestically and worldwide. As a result, the IMF now expects U.S. gross domestic product will grow only 4% in 2022, down from the 5.2% it previously projected and 5.6% in 2021.
7%. That’s how much consumer prices rose in the 12 months through December—the largest annual increase since June 1982, according to the Labor Department.
‘Market Jitters’ Have S&P 500 Flirting With Correction Territory (Forbes)
Stocks Surge After Powell Says Fed Not Afraid To Raise Rates Further If Higher Inflation Persists (Forbes)
Stocks Plunge After Fed Minutes Show Central Bank Could Remove More Stimulus (Forbes)
Inflation Spiked Another 7% In December—Hitting New 39-Year High As Fed’s Price Concerns Rattle Markets (Forbes)