Federal Reserve officials generally agreed that they likely won’t need to cut interest rates again unless economic conditions change significantly, according to minutes released Wednesday from their most recent meeting.
Central bankers in late October cut their benchmark overnight lending rate a quarter point to a range of 1.5%-1.75%, the third such move in 2019.
However, in doing so “most” Federal Open Market Committee members saw the moves as enough “to support the outlook of moderate growth, a strong labor market, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective,” the meeting summary said.
The stance of policy “likely would remain” where it is “as long as incoming information about the economy did not result in a material reassessment of the economic outlook.”
They maintained, however, that policy isn’t on a preset course, even if it is likely to remain on hold, and members will continue to assess changes in data and the general outlook. Members often note that Fed policy adjustments work on a lag that can take a year or more to be felt, so they intend on watching how the switch to easier policy will impact financial conditions. The cuts started in July, just seven months after the committee approved the fourth rate hike of 2018.
Those sentiments are largely in keeping with recent public statements from Fed officials.
Chairman Jerome Powell, in congressional testimony last week, said he also felt comfortable with the stance of policy. That includes the low probability of a rate hike as well: Following the Oct. 29-30 FOMC meeting, he further stated that he doesn’t expect increases unless there is a significant move up in inflation.
Downside risks to economy
Discussions at the meeting indicated that members feel the U.S. economy is in a fairly strong position, with a healthy labor market and strong spending appetite among consumers, whose activity accounts for about 70% of GDP.
However, they also see “the downside risks surrounding the economic outlook as elevated, further underscoring the case for a rate cut” at the October meeting. They cited reduced business investment and exports resulting from “weakness in global growth and elevated uncertainty regarding trade developments.”
They did note that concerns over both issues seem to have “eased somewhat.”
The U.S. and China have been locked in a nearly two-year trade skirmish that has seen the two sides level hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs against each other. Recent headlines point to some thawing, though CNBC reported earlier this week that Beijing remains pessimistic that a deal will get done.
FOMC members voting in favor of the rate cut also cited the benefits lower rates would provide as an insurance policy against trouble ahead. They also continued to express concern about inflation that runs consistently below the Fed’s 2% target. All but two committee members voted for the cut, with the dissents believing that no further accommodation was needed.
U.S. economic activity likely subsided significantly in the fourth quarter. GDP trackers from the New York and Atlanta Feds put Q4 gains at less than half a percent, though CNBC’s Rapid Update gauge sees the number around 1.5%.