Federal Reserve Holds its Benchmark Interest Rate

On June 12th, 2024, the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) for the seventh straight meeting, once again held its benchmark interest rate steady at 5.25% – 5.5%, which is the highest level it’s been for over twenty years. Whilst Chairman Powell dialled back expectations for rate cuts this year saying the latest forecasts were a new conservative approach, financial markets suggest that there may be two rate cuts this year with the first cut possibly coming in September. However, policymakers have advised that instead of three rate cuts in 2024 as previously advised, they now only expect to make one rate cut in 2024. 

On the same day before the FOMC meeting CPI (consumer price index) figures were published, reflecting better than expected data which is cause for optimism in the future. Chairman Powell was quoted as saying the “numbers are encouraging” and suggested that the latest CPI figures may not have been fully taken into account by the latest quarterly projections. He went on to say that although the committee were briefed on the CPI figures, most individuals do not update projections when data arrives in the middle of policy meetings. His words were jumped on by many leading experts who suggested that the door is still wide open for two rate cuts in 2024. 

Officials of the Federal Reserve raised their outlook for inflation in the longer term to 2.8%, up 0.2% from their March 2024 estimation and still above their target of 2%. However, experts suggest the Federal Reserve is still trying to come to terms as to the appropriate time to cut interest rates, as there is uncertainty regarding tight monetary policy and the impact it is having on the economy. Despite high borrowing costs, consumer spending and job growth have been particularly resilient even though inflation remains above 2%. Chairman Powell has been quick to point out the split within the committee where the “Dot Plot”* showed eight officials expecting 2 rate cuts, seven expecting one rate cut and four expecting zero rate cuts.

*Dot Plot – This is a graphical display consisting of data points on a graph which the Federal Reserve uses to predict interest rates. The graphs display quantitative variables where each dot represents a value.

Experts suggest that chairman Powell is content to leave interest rates unchanged until the economy sends a clear signal such as a jump in the unemployment rate or further declines in the CPI. However, with the Federal Reserve’s eyes on the PCE index (Personal Consumption Index), nothing is really as it seems.