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Are interest rates at neutral? Markets certainly hope so

Mohamed A. El-Erian
Mohamed A. El-Erian7/28/2022 01:23 PM GMT+08  • 3 min read
Are interest rates at neutral? Markets certainly hope so
US Fed chairman Powell has described inflation is “much too high” and is inflicting “considerable hardship” on Americans. / Bloomberg
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One of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s unscripted remarks at his press conference on Wednesday, July 27, — that interest rates have reached a “neutral level” after the just-announced 75-basis-point interest-rate increase — is sure to prompt much discussion among economists in the weeks and months ahead. Judging from how markets reacted the minute he made this remark, it is clear what conclusions the vast majority of investors want these economists to reach.

Neutral is shorthand for the crucially important notion that the level of interest rates is consistent with monetary policy being neither contractionary nor expansionary. When combined with the Fed’s dual mandate, it signals a monetary policy that is close to being set to deliver maximum employment and price stability.

In today’s world, this is translated by markets into the view that the Fed now believes that it has already done the bulk of what is needed to tighten monetary policy to deal with what Powell himself described as inflation that remains “much too high” and is inflicting “considerable hardship” on Americans.

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