Is It Time For The Federal Reserve To Pause Interest Rates?

Category Business

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The Federal Reserve's decision to hold rates steady indicates it believes it is time to pause its aggressive campaign to tame runaway inflation, spurred by the sharpest rate of inflation since the 1980s. The latest consumer price index data suggests inflation is lower than it appears, and further rate hikes may do more harm than good to the banking sector without bringing inflation down. Regionalists have argued for a pause instead of more rate hikes, ultimately leaving the decision on the Federal Open Market Committee lead by Jerome Powell.

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The Federal Reserve’s decision to hold rates steady signals that central bankers believe it is time to hit pause, at least temporarily, on their aggressive campaign to tame runaway inflation. The latest data, not to mention several other factors, however, suggests it’s time for a full stop. On June 14, 2023, the Fed chose not to lift rates for the first time in 11 meetings, leaving its target interest rate – a benchmark for borrowing costs across the global economy – at a range of 5% to 5 .

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported shelter costs rose 8% from a year ago

25%. Over 10 consecutive hikes beginning in March 2022, the Fed had raised rates a whopping 5 percentage points. "Holding the target range steady at this meeting allows the committee to assess additional information and its implications for monetary policy," the central bank said in a statement. The Fed indicated it still expects to raise rates two more times by the end of the year. As an economist who follows the central bank’s actions closely, I believe there’s good reason to think the Fed’s brief hiatus is likely to turn into a permanent vacation .

The Zillow Observed Rent Index suggests rates are declining

Inflation is lower than it appears The fastest rate of inflation since the 1980s is what prompted the Fed to hike interest rates so much. So it makes sense that inflation would be a key indicator of when its job is complete. The latest consumer price index data, released on June 13, showed core inflation – the Fed’s preferred measure, which excludes volatile food and energy prices – falling to an annual rate of 5 .

The modified core inflation measure created by Jason Furman is 2.6%

3% in May 2023, the slowest pace since November 2021. That’s down from a peak of 6.6% in September 2022. While the data shows inflation remains well above the Fed’s target of around 2%, there’s good reason to believe that it will continue to fall regardless of what the Fed does. Shelter, a measure of the cost of owning or renting a home, is the largest component of the consumer price index, accounting for more than one-third of the total .

The Federal Open Market Committee final decision is in the hands of Fed Chair Jerome Powell

In its latest report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported shelter costs rose 8% from a year ago. After stripping that out, inflation was up just 2.1%. The thing is, the data reported by the bureau doesn’t reflect the reality of what’s happening in the current housing market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics relies on a survey that gauges rental prices from 50,000 leases, many of which were signed during the rental bubble in 2021 and 2022 .

The Fed's previous 10 consecutive rate hikes over March 2022 to June 2023 pushed rates up by 5 percentage points

A better measure of current market rents is the Zillow Observed Rent Index. That index suggests rates are declining – rents rose 4.8% year over year in May, aligning with pre-pandemic rates. Comparing the two measures suggests the official consumer price index data lags behind the market by four to six months. Using current rents would put inflation much closer to where the Fed wants it to be. Jason Furman, former chair of the government’s Council of Economic Advisors, created a modified version of core inflation – which uses a market-based measure of shelter prices – at 2 .

The consumer price index data lags behind the current market by 4 to 6 months

6%. The risk of more rate hikes Moreover, it is likely that further rate hikes will do more harm than good – particularly to the banking sector – and without helping lower inflation below its current trajectory. Several regionalists have said raising interest rates is not necessary given the current economic environment, and have argued that a pause is the best strategy, given the potential risks. It’s worth noting, however, that those regional officials don’t have a vote on the Federal Open Market Committee .

The ultimate decision is still in the hands of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

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