Fed lifts rates by 0.25%, maintains forecast for one more hike this year

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Fed lifts rates by 0.25%, maintains forecast for one more hike this year

By Yasin Ebrahim

Investing.com -- The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.25% on Wednesday, and maintained its forecast for one more hike this year at a time when a wobble in the banking sector is expected to tighten credit conditions and help cool inflation.   

The Federal Open Market Committee, the FOMC, raised its benchmark rate to a range of 4.75% to 5% from 4.5% to 4.75% previously. 

It was the second straight quarter-point rate hike since the Fed downshifted from a 50-basis point rate hike earlier this year. The Fed said, however, that it "anticipates that some additional policy firming may be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2 percent over time."

The Fed kept its benchmark rate forecast unchanged from December, forecasting a terminal rate, or peak rate, of 5.1%% in 2023, suggesting at least one more hike. 

The Fed’s reaction function has been dominated by inflation data for months as its maximum employment goal has played second fiddle amid a strong labor market. But the recent wobble in the banking sector hijacked the narrative on monetary policy and fueled much uncertainty about the rate-hike path ahead. 

The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank has filtered into the Fed's thinking on monetary policy as members acknowledge that tighter credit conditions could support the Fed in its fight against inflation.

"The U.S. banking system is sound and resilient. Recent developments are likely to result in tighter credit conditions for households and businesses and to weigh on economic activity, hiring, and inflation," the Fed said in a statement.  

Inflation still well above the 2% target, the central bank stressed further tightening was required to push monetary policy into restrictive territory. The FOMC revised its inflation forecasts for this year and next year higher. 

The core personal consumption expenditures price index, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, is forecast to be 3.6% in 2023, up from a prior forecast of 3.5%. For 2024, inflation is estimated to slow to 2.6%, compared with the prior forecast of 2.5%. Fed members kept their inflation forecasts for 2025 unchanged at 2.1%.

The strength in the labor market that has played a role in keeping core services ex-housing inflation, which drives the bulk of price pressures, flat isn't expected to change anytime soon.

The unemployment rate is expected to be 4.5% in 2023, down from a prior estimate of 4.6%, but tick up to 4.6% next year, unchanged from the December forecast, according to the Fed's projections. For 2025, the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 4.6%, slightly higher than the 4.5% estimate previously.

The backdrop of still sticky inflation, strong labor and higher rates is expected to make a big dent in economic growth next year. The Fed's forecast on economic growth was lifted by 0.1% to 0.5% for 2023, while the estimate for next year was cut to 1.2% from 1.6% previously.

The Fed’s balance sheet, meanwhile, has also come into focus after it began expanding again in the wake of jitters in the banking system. The Fed’s balance sheet now stands at $8.6 trillion, up from $8.34 trillion last month. 

The dramatic reversal from contraction to expansion in the Fed’s balance sheet followed a rise in funding costs and the central bank’s new bank lending facility that sought to support the banking system. 

The new lending facility allows banks access to loans of up to one year using qualifying assets including any underwater, or below-par, bonds as collateral. 

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