Markets Feb 01, 2024 01:34 AM EST

Fed Holds Steady: Will It Spur Business Investment or Cool Consumer Spending?

By April Fowell

  • The Federal Reserve decided to maintain its benchmark interest rate, signaling a cautious approach as officials emphasize the need for more progress in combating inflation in 2024.

  • The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) stated it would keep the federal funds rate between 5.25% to 5.5%, pausing for the fourth consecutive time since July. The central bank had initially projected three rate increases in December.

  • Analysts interpret the Fed's stance as a delay in the expected rate reduction, with about 90% of them anticipating a rate cut at the upcoming meeting in late April, pushing expectations further out than initially predicted.

The Federal Reserve decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at the end of its first monetary policy meeting of 2024, which was largely anticipated on Wall Street.

However, officials made it clear they wanted to see more progress made in the fight against inflation this year, which increased market attention to the precise moment the Fed would slack up on its support of the American economy for the first time in two years.

Fed Holds Steady: Will It Spur Business Investment or Cool Consumer Spending?

(Photo : by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
The Federal Reserve decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at the end of its first monetary policy meeting of 2024, which was largely anticipated on Wall Street.

The Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates for the Federal Reserve, said in a policy statement on Wednesday that it will maintain the federal funds rate between 5.25% to 5.5%. This is the fourth time in a row that the committee has paused since July, when it last raised rates. The central bank predicted three rate increases this year in December. 

Certain economists took note of the Fed's remarks, seeing it as an indication that it would make its first reduction later than anticipated. According to financial data source FactSet, four out of ten Wall Street analysts had predicted, before the Fed's announcement on Wednesday, that the institution would begin reducing rates in March, with its next rate meeting scheduled for March 19-20.

The position taken by the Fed sends a "clear signal that the Fed is not yet ready to raise the'mission accomplished' banner," according to an email sent following the rate decision by Global X's chief investment officer, Jon Maier.

Maier continued, "As a result, we're definitely seeing a reevaluation in the markets regarding the timing of the rate cut, pushing expectations further out than initially anticipated."

Approximately 90% of analysts anticipate a rate reduction at the central bank's upcoming meeting, which is set for April 30-May 1.

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Fed's Effort to Tackle Soaring Inflation

In an effort to cool the fastest-rising inflation in forty years, the Fed began raising rates in March 2021. As consumer prices decline and the US economy as a whole continues to develop rapidly, with low unemployment and GDP growth, that policy is paying off.

However, Fed Chair Jerome Powell issued a warning on Wednesday afternoon, stating that "the path forward is uncertain" and that "inflation is still high."

Even while policymakers seem to be lowering expectations for near-term reduction, other analysts said the Fed's policy statement highlighted the fact that rates are already high enough to contain inflation.

Since the pandemic severely damaged the economy, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates rapidly, making borrowing more costly for both individuals and companies. This has increased the cost of credit card debt, mortgages, and auto loans.

Rate reductions may offer some respite to Americans who have postponed buying a house or a car because of the increased cost of borrowing. However, economists caution that a hasty decision to lower rates might invite further inflation.

The cost of borrowing isn't expected to decrease anytime soon due to the Fed's commitment to maintain rate stability.

Expectations that the Fed would soon lower rates, making it less expensive for firms to borrow money and expand their services, contributed to the recent highs reached by U.S. equities. Following the Fed's pronouncement, stocks fell sharply, with the S&P 500 down 1.5% in late afternoon trade.

Freddie Mac data shows that despite this, mortgage rates have decreased over the previous several months, coming down from a 20-year high of over 8% last autumn to around 6.7% presently. That happened during the Fed's rate-stabilization last autumn, and according to LendingTree analyst Jacob Channel, it's feasible that rates on mortgages may go further.

Given the current cost of borrowing, customers should prioritize paying off debt in the meantime, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.

Related Article: Goldman Sachs Expects Fed to Pivot, Slashing Rates to Boost Economy

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