May 19, 2022

Fed Signals Rate Increase in March, Citing Inflation and Strong Job Market

The Fed was already slowing a bond-buying program it had been using to bolster the economy, and that program remains on track to end in March. The Fed’s post-meeting statements and Mr. Powell’s remarks signaled that central bankers could begin to shrink their balance sheet holdings of government-backed debt soon after they begin to raise interest rates, a move that would further remove support from markets and the economy.

Investors have been nervously eyeing the Fed’s next steps, worried that its policy changes will hurt stock and other asset prices and rapidly slow down the economy. Stocks on Wall Street gave up their gains and yields on government bonds rose as Mr. Powell spoke. The SP 500 ended with a loss of 0.2 percent after earlier rising as much as 2.2 percent. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, a proxy for investor expectations for interest rates, jumped as high as 1.87 percent.

The Fed has pivoted sharply from boosting growth to preparing to cool it down as businesses report widespread labor shortages and as prices across the economy — for rent, cars and couches — soar. Consumer prices are rising at the fastest pace since 1982, eating away at paychecks and creating a political liability for President Biden and Democrats. It is the Fed’s job to keep inflation under control and to set the stage for a strong job market.

“The Fed has completed its pivot from being patient to panicked on inflation,” Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Grant Thornton, wrote in a research note to clients after the meeting. “Its next move will be to raise rates.”

The Fed’s withdrawal of policy support could temper consumer and corporate demand as borrowing money to buy a car, a boat, a house or a business becomes more expensive. Slower demand could give supply chains, which have fallen behind during the pandemic, room to catch up. By slowing down hiring, the Fed’s moves could also limit wage growth, which might otherwise feed into inflation if employers raised prices to cover higher labor costs.

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