WASHINGTON, May 26 ― US central bankers stressed their “strong commitment and determination” to bring raging inflation under control including with more big interest rate increases, according to the minutes of the latest policy meeting released yesterday.
With US inflation rising at the fastest pace in nearly four decades, the Fed's policy committee early this month hiked the key rate by a half point ― the biggest increase since 2000 ― and most members said similar increases “would likely be appropriate at the next couple of meetings.”
The comments solidify expectations raised after Fed chair Jerome Powell said additional big moves should be “on the table” in coming discussions, and could help quiet critics who have been sounding the alarm about the inflation threat.
But the minutes show members of the Federal Reserve's policy committee are fully aware of the danger of rising prices, which erodes incomes, and say they must move “expeditiously” to increase the benchmark borrowing rate and offload the massive bond holdings to tamp down inflation, which they said was “too high.”
While the pace of consumer price increases slowed slightly last month, jumping 8.3 per cent compared to April 2021 after hitting 8.5 per cent the prior month, Fed officials warned that “price pressures remained elevated and that it was too early to be confident that inflation had peaked.”
The Fed slashed interest rates to zero at the start of the pandemic to prevent a severe economic downturn and also ramped up bond purchases to pump liquidity into the financial system, but began to reel in those measures as prices accelerated as the economy recovered.
The process started in March with a quarter-point rate increase, and starting June 1, it will start to reduce its asset holdings. The next policy meeting is June 14-15.
The minutes confirm central bankers are committed to a series of moves to remove stimulus to the economy but said they may have to go even further and hit the brakes on the economy depending on how the outlook evolves.
“All participants reaffirmed their strong commitment and determination to take the measures necessary to restore price stability,” the minutes said.
However, there was no mention of the possibility of an even more aggressive three-quarter-point rate hike.
In fact, Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said he expects “a less hawkish tone to emerge in June” and sees potential for a smaller rate hike at the July meeting, especially amid the slowdown in the US housing market in response to rising borrowing costs and high prices.
“We can't stress enough that the housing data are nowhere near bottom yet, and we doubt policymakers have the stomach” to continue with big rate hikes, he said.
But others said the Fed is ready to do whatever it takes to rein in the price increases.
“The Fed is focused on derailing the inflation... they know it will require heavy lifting and some 'pain,'” Grant Thornton chief economist Diane Swonk said on Twitter.
While Fed officials say the world's largest economy is in a solid position, they cautioned that the outlook is highly uncertain.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the Covid-19 lockdowns in China “posed heightened risks for both the United States and economies around the world,” including worsening supply chain snarls and fanning inflation flames, notably prices for energy and other commodities, the minutes said.
They said “supply constraints overall were still significant and would likely take some time to be resolved.” The current goal is to quickly move the benchmark rate to neutral, where it is neither stimulating nor restricting the economy; however, the officials said “a restrictive stance of policy may well become appropriate.” ― AFP