The Federal Reserve, led by FOMC Chairman Jerome Powell, is still wary about a flare-up of inflation. The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos reports:
The Federal Reserve signaled it was thinking about when to lower interest rates but hinted a cut wasn’t imminent when it held rates steady at its first policy meeting of the year on Wednesday.
The central bank held its benchmark federal-funds rate steady in a range between 5.25% and 5.5%, the highest level in more than two decades, as it awaits more convincing evidence that a sharp downturn in inflation at the end of last year will endure.
“It’s a highly consequential decision to start the process” of lowering interest rates “and we want to get that right,” said Fed Chair Jerome Powell at a news conference. “We’ve made a lot of progress on inflation. We just want to make sure that we do get the job done in a sustainable way.”
For most of January, investors in interest-rate futures markets have placed roughly 50% odds that the central bank would cut rates at its next meeting, March 19-20. But Powell volunteered on Wednesday that officials didn’t think a March cut was likely.
“I don’t think it’s likely that the committee will reach a level of confidence by the time of the March meeting” to justify a rate cut, “but that’s to be seen,” he said.
Stock indexes ended lower Wednesday, with the S&P 500 down 79.32 points, or 1.6%. The index, which on Monday closed at an all-time high, registered its biggest decline since September. Yields on the 10-year Treasury note declined 0.091 percentage point to close at 3.965% after New York Community Bancorp reported a loss and slashed its dividend, igniting new jitters about the health of regional lenders.
The market-based probability of a March cut fell to around 35% on Wednesday afternoon, according to CME Group. “March is not the base case and in order for it to be a truly live meeting, the data has got to disappoint materially,” said Michael de Pass, global head of rates trading at Citadel Securities.
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