Fed hikes rates by 75 basis points for third time this year

(The Hill) — The Federal Reserve on Wednesday boosted interest rates by three-fourths of a percentage point, the latest in a series of aggressive steps to tame stubborn inflation.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) — the panel of Fed officials responsible for monetary policy— hiked its baseline interest rate by 0.75 percentage points Wednesday to a span of 3 to 3.25 percent.

It is the fifth Fed rate hike since March and the third consecutive FOMC meeting ending with a 75 basis point hike.

The Fed had long been expected to issue another 75 basis point hike in September as inflation continued to rise through much of the summer and linger near four-decade highs. While monthly price growth has slowed slightly, the annual inflation rate of 8.2 percent in August, according to the consumer price index, was close to levels not seen since the late 1970s. 

Fed officials had faced some pressure to hike by a full percentage point in the weeks leading up to the Wednesday meeting after consumer prices rose again in August. Financial markets locked in a roughly 20 percent change of a 1 percentage point rate hike in the hours before the FOMC meeting concluded Wednesday, according to the CME FedWatch tool, which tracks where traders expect the Fed to set interest rates.

Even so, the Fed stuck to its plan for a 0.75 percentage point hike, a move bank officials portrayed as an urgent but measured attempt to smother inflation.

“Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures,” the FOMC said in a statement.

The Fed has hiked interest rates rapidly from near-zero levels set in 2020 as the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy. The bank is racing to bring inflation down before it spirals out of control by slowing the economy enough to reduce the amount of spending on goods and services.

Fed officials and many economists were hopeful that the bank could slow the economy and make a dent on inflation without derailing strong job growth, low unemployment and steady economic growth. But experts say the chances of recession in 2024 are rising.

“The Fed is in a really, really tough position, in part because they have a very limited toolkit,” said Lindsay Owens, executive director at Groundwork Collaborative.

“They have inflation that’s coming from a constellation of sources,” Owens explained. 

The Fed’s rate hikes have slowed the housing market, curbed some hiring and weighed on economic growth. The combination of the Fed’s actions, normalizing supply chains and falling gas prices should eventually lead to lower inflation.

But inflation has fallen little since the Fed’s rate hikes began and officials have pledged to keep ramping up rates until they see clear signs of slowing price growth — a process Fed Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged would bring “pain.”

“We’re seeing the expected consequences of this,” Owens said. “It’s working, but it is not truly taming the price increases we’re seeing.”

Powell is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m.

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