US economy

Fed chair Jerome Powell: high inflation likely to delay rate cuts this year

The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, cautioned on Tuesday that persistently elevated inflation will probably delay any Fed interest rate cuts until later this year, opening the door to a period of higher-for-longer rates.

“Recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence” that inflation is coming fully under control and “instead indicate that it’s likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence”, Powell said during a panel discussion at the Wilson Center.

“If higher inflation does persist,” he said, “we can maintain the current level of [interest rates] for as long as needed.”

The Fed chair’s comments suggested that without further evidence that inflation is falling, the central bank may carry out fewer than the three quarter-point reductions its officials had forecast during their most recent meeting in March.

His remarks on Tuesday represented a shift for Powell, who on 7 March had told a Senate committee that the Fed was “not far” from gaining the confidence it needed to cut rates. At a news conference on 20 March, Powell appeared to downplay that assertion. But his comments on Tuesday went further in dimming the likelihood of any rate cuts in the coming months.

“Powell’s comments make it clear the Fed is now looking past June,” when many economists had previously expected rate cuts to begin, Krishna Guha, an analyst at EvercoreISI, said in a research note.

In the past several weeks, government data has shown that inflation remains stubbornly above the Fed’s 2% target and that the economy is still growing robustly. Year-over-year inflation rose to 3.5% in March, from 3.2% in February. And a closely watched gauge of “core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy, rose sharply for a third straight month.

As recently as December, Wall Street traders had priced in as many as six quarter-point rate cuts this year. Now they foresee only two rate cuts, with the first coming in September.


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