Fed Cuts Its Interest Rate Target for Third Time This Year

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell attends an event at the Federal Reserve headquarters October 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. Powell participated in a "Fed Listens" event on "Perspectives on Maximum Employment and Price Stability." (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve cut its interest rate target by a quarter-percentage point for the third time this year.

Eight of 10 Fed officials voted in favor of lowering the federal-funds target rate to a range between 1.50% and 1.75%, with two reserve bank presidents preferring to hold rates steady.

The Fed removed language in its policy statement saying it would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion” in the near future. The new formulation suggests that the Fed is not planning further rate cuts this year.

The statement described the labor market as strong and economic activity as risking at a “moderate” pace.

“Although household spending has been rising at a strong pace, business fixed investment and exports remain weak,” the Fed said.

A year ago, the Fed was planning to raise rates several times this year, a policy it described as “normalizing” interest rates. This plan was heavily criticized by President Donald Trump, who saw it as hurting his efforts to rev up economic growth. When the Fed seemed to persist in its policy despite some signs the economy was losing steam in the last quarter of 2018, financial markets staged big sell-offs of risk assets.

The market reaction was strong enough to convince the central bank to relent. In January, the Fed signaled that it had abandoned its policy of gradual rate hikes and it cut its target for the first time in a decade in July, describing the cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment” rather than a new direction for rates overall. The Fed cut again in September.

Wednesday’s rate cut was widely expected. But investors will pay close attention to the words of Fed chair Jerome Powell at a press conference set to be held after the Fed meeting for hints of the Fed’s next move.

Many Fed officials believe that once the October cut is in place, the Fed will have done enough to innoculate the economy against a sharp downturn. And while there are some on the Fed who think it should continue to cut, they appear to be out-numbered by those who would rather take a wait and see approach. On Wednesday morning, the Commerce Department released that the economy had grown at a 1.9 percent annual pace in the third quarter, better than the consensus forecast.




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