The Federal Reserve continued its campaign to tame inflation by approving a third consecutive three-quarters of a percentage point interest rate increase and signaling more hikes were likely coming at the two remaining monetary policy meetings this year.
Officials agreed Wednesday to lift the benchmark federal-funds rate to a range between three percent and 3.25 percent, the highest since 2008.
Investors had expected a 75 basis point raise, although markets indicated an outside chance of an even larger hike.
“Recent indicators point to modest growth in spending and production. Job gains have been robust in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a unanimous statement released at the end of its two day meeting Wednesday.
Markets have rallied following each of the Fed’s interest rate announcements this year as investors decided time after time that Fed chair Jerome Powell appeared to be signaling a softer approach ahead. In a speech at a monetary policy conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last month, Powell appeared to convince markets that the Fed would be unwavering in its fight against inflation and would not cut rates next year even if the economy slumped significantly.
U.S. inflation began accelerating March 2021 as demand surged as the economy reopened and the Biden administration pushed through a new round of aggressive government stimulus. Fed officials initially mistook inflation as likely to be a brief episode linked to what they called “transitory” factors, such as disrupted supply chains and a lower labor force participation rate. Now Fed officials recognize that this was an error and have been frantically raising rates in hopes of preventing inflation from becoming more entrenched in the economy.
Core inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, has averaged 0.5 percent over the past 12 months, delivering a total price rise of 6.3 percent. Inflation appeared to moderate in July, with core prices rising just 0.3 percent. But that was short-lived. In August, core prices were up 0.6 percent.
At Jackson Hole, Powell said that the Fed’s tightening of financial conditions would likely inflict pain on households and businesses. The Fed sees the labor market as dangerously tight, with nearly two job vacancies for every unemployed person.