Fed sees ‘significant’ inflation risk that could mean more hikes

Federal Reserve officials at their last meeting largely remained concerned that inflation would fail to recede and suggested they may continue raising interest rates.

“Most participants continued to see significant upside risks to inflation, which could require further tightening of monetary policy,” according to the minutes of the central bank’s July 25-26 policy meeting published Wednesday in Washington.

“Some participants commented that even though economic activity had been resilient and the labor market had remained strong, there continued to be downside risks to economic activity and upside risks to the unemployment rate,” the Fed said.

Policymakers raised the target range for their benchmark rate by a quarter point at the meeting, to 5.25% to 5.5%, the highest level in 22 years. That marked a resumption of increases after they left rates unchanged at the previous gathering for the first time since early 2022.

While quarterly projections last updated in June showed most officials at the time favored two more increases in 2023, Chair Jerome Powell emphasized after the July decision that the Fed would take things meeting by meeting.

RESTRICTIVE POLICY

“We intend again to keep policy restrictive until we’re confident that inflation is coming down sustainably to our 2% target, and we’re prepared to further tighten if that is appropriate,” Powell told reporters on July 26.

Following the release of the minutes, Treasury yields remained higher, while the S&P 500 index extended its losses on the day and the dollar added to its gains.

Public remarks from officials on the Federal Open Market Committee since the July meeting suggest the strong degree of consensus underpinning the aggressive tightening campaign of the last year and a half may be starting to fray.

Some, such as Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, have indicated the central bank might not need to keep raising interest rates. Others, including Fed Governor Michelle Bowman, have taken the opposite view.

“A number of participants judged that, with the stance of monetary policy in restrictive territory, risks to the achievement of the committee’s goals had become more two-sided, and it was important that the committee’s decisions balance the risk of an inadvertent overtightening of policy against the cost of an insufficient tightening,” the minutes stated.

While the FOMC’s 11 voting members unanimously agreed to raise interest rates in July, the support wasn’t unanimous among the broader panel of about 18 officials, as two favored leaving rates unchanged or “could have supported such a proposal,” the minutes showed.

TRADER EXPECTATIONS

Investors currently don’t expect another rate increase this year, according to futures contracts, though the implied odds of a hike at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 meeting are higher than those for the Fed’s next meeting on Sept. 19-20. 

They continue to see the central bank cutting rates in 2024, with the benchmark rate seen falling to around 4.25% by the end of next year.

Fed watchers will listen for a possible signal at the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole conference in Wyoming next week, where Powell is expected to deliver remarks.

Key economic data published since the July gathering have largely supported the notion that Fed officials have some time to deliberate over the need for more tightening. 

Quarterly releases on employment costs and unit labor costs showed a deceleration in the pace of increases, while a measure of consumer prices excluding food and energy logged the smallest back-to-back monthly advances in more than two years.

The minutes also conveyed optimism about the outlook for the U.S. economy as the Fed’s influential staff economists “no longer judged that the economy would enter a mild recession toward the end of the year.”

Still, they expected economic growth over the next two years “would run below their estimate of potential output growth, leading to a small increase in the unemployment rate relative to its current level.”

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