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Powell signals rate-cut delay after run of inflation surprises

Bloomberg • 3 min read
Powell signals rate-cut delay after run of inflation surprises
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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled policymakers will wait longer than previously anticipated to cut interest rates following a series of surprisingly high inflation readings.

Powell pointed to the lack of additional progress made on inflation after the rapid decline seen at the end of last year, noting it will likely take more time for officials to gain the necessary confidence that price growth is headed toward the Fed’s 2% goal before lower borrowing costs. 

If price pressures persist, he said, the Fed can keep rates steady for “as long as needed.” 

“The recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence and instead indicate that is likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence,” Powell said Tuesday in a panel discussion alongside Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem at the Wilson Center in Washington. 

“Given the strength of the labour market and progress on inflation so far, it is appropriate to allow restrictive policy further time to work and let the data and the evolving outlook guide us,” he said. 

Powell’s remarks represent a shift in his message following a third straight month in which a key measure of inflation exceeded analysts’ forecasts. It also shows officials see little urgency to cut rates and suggests that any reductions in 2024 may come relatively late in the year, if at all.

See also: JPMorgan CEO Dimon sees 'lot of inflationary forces in front of us'

Policymakers narrowly pencilled in three interest-rate cuts in forecasts published last month, but investors are now betting on just one to two cuts this year, futures markets show. The Federal Open Market Committee, the group of officials that sets interest rates, next meets April 30-May 1.

“Their confidence has been shaken,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. “He confirmed and emphasized what the markets were already pricing in based on the economic data.”

Treasury yields reached fresh year-to-date highs — with the two-year note’s briefly exceeding 5% and reaching the highest level since November — after Powell signalled the Fed is in no hurry to cut rates.

See also: Higher for longer? Rates could be higher forever

The US economy continues to surprise Fed officials with its resilience. Employers added over 300,000 jobs in March — the most in nearly a year — and retail sales topped expectations. That strength has coincided with a pickup in price pressures in 2024, raising concerns about a stalling in progress toward the central bank’s inflation goal.

Earlier Tuesday, Fed Vice Chair Philip Jefferson said he expects inflation will continue to moderate with interest rates at their current level but persistent price pressures would warrant holding borrowing costs high for longer. Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin said some recent data, including the consumer price index, has not “been supportive” of a soft landing.

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