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Stocks, Fed Minutes and Inflation News for May 25, 2022


Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Federal Reserve officials agreed at their last meeting that the central bank needed to maneuver “expeditiously” to bring down essentially the most rapid pace of inflation in 40 years, with most participants expecting as many as three half-a-percentage-point rate of interest increases within the months ahead, minutes of the Fed’s May meeting showed.

Additionally they discussed the prospect of raising rates of interest beyond the so-called neutral rate, at which they’re neither supporting nor dampening the economy, to further slow economic growth as policymakers attempt to combat inflation.

The officials noted that inflationary pressures were evident in a broad array of products and services, causing hardship for Americans by eroding their incomes and making it hard for businesses to plan for the longer term. They said further supply chain disruptions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and pandemic lockdowns in China were also threatening to push inflation higher.

Their discussion highlighted the urgency of the duty ahead, with some officials emphasizing “that persistently high inflation heightened the chance that longer-term inflation expectations could turn into unanchored,” making it tougher for the central bank to return inflation to the two percent annual average that the Fed goals for.

Officials also debated whether price pressures is likely to be starting to abate. Several observed that recent economic data suggested inflation might not be worsening, though they said it was too soon to say whether it had peaked. While they said the job market and consumer and business spending remained strong, additionally they expressed concern about “downside” risks to the economy “and the likelihood of a protracted rise in energy and commodity prices.”

The Fed raised rates half a percentage point in May, its biggest rate increase since 2000. Officials also detailed a plan to shrink the central bank’s $9 trillion in bond holdings and signaled that it could proceed making a living dearer to borrow and spend until it got inflation under control. Within the May meeting, officials reiterated plans to start winding down on June 1 a stimulus program that has been in place since early within the pandemic.

The Fed’s policy rate is now set in a variety of 0.75 to 1 percent.

Its decision to lift rates by half a percentage point in May initially buoyed Wall Street, which had been apprehensive a couple of larger increase of 0.75, as some officials had been suggesting. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, speaking at a news conference after the May meeting, appeared to rule out such a big move, saying it was “not something the committee is actively considering.” Investors took notice of that comment, and stocks rallied.

But within the weeks since, Mr. Powell has made clear that economic conditions remain incredibly uncertain and that the Fed might have to go greater — or smaller — depending on how things evolve.

“If things are available in higher than we expect, then we’re prepared to do less,” Mr. Powell said during an interview with “Marketplace,” a radio program distributed by American Public Media. “In the event that they are available in worse than once we expect, then we’re prepared to do more.”

Still, as of the May meeting, “most participants judged that 50-basis-point increases within the goal range would likely be appropriate at the subsequent couple of meetings,” in response to the minutes, which were released on Wednesday.

Fed officials have made clear that they are going to do what it takes to tame inflation, which hit 8.5 percent in the US last month, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, can also be rising, though not as rapidly, climbing 6.6 percent in March from a yr earlier.

While the Fed and plenty of outside economists expected prices to ease because the economy reopened and snarled supply chains returned to more normal operations, that has not happened. As a substitute, prices have continued to rise, broadening to categories including food, rent and gas. China’s Covid lockdowns and the war in Ukraine have only exacerbated price increases for goods, food and fuel.

But as rates increase, the Federal Reserve might be watching keenly for signs that the trajectory of the economy is starting to vary. Data released Tuesday showed recent home sales falling 16.6 percent in April from the month earlier, an indication that dearer borrowing costs could also be cooling the housing market. Surveys by S&P Global on Tuesday also pointed to slowing activity at service businesses in the US and elsewhere, and continued supply chain disruptions at global factories.

Data released after the Fed’s May meeting showed that the yearly pace at which prices are increasing moderated somewhat in April, but inflation rates were still uncomfortably rapid. The overarching query for the Fed is whether or not policymakers will find a way to slow the economy enough to temper inflation without spurring a recession, which Mr. Powell and his colleagues have repeatedly acknowledged is more likely to be a challenge. While Fed officials said their goal for now was to maneuver policy back to a “neutral” stance, they might must transcend that if conditions deteriorate, essentially hitting the brakes on the economy, somewhat than simply easing off the gas.

Participants “noted that a restrictive stance of policy might turn into appropriate depending on the evolving economic outlook and the risks to the outlook,” in response to the minutes.

“There are huge events, geopolitical events happening around the globe, which can be going to play a vital role within the economy in the subsequent yr or so,” Mr. Powell said last week. “So the query whether we are able to execute a soft landing or not, it may very well rely on aspects that we don’t control.”

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