Fed raises interest rates 0.25%, intensifying inflation fight despite cooling prices
The Fed has imposed its most aggressive series of rate hikes in 40 years.
The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate another 0.25% on Wednesday, reviving its inflation fight despite a significant cooldown of price increases in recent months.
The rate hike brought the Fed's benchmark interest rate to a 22-year high of between 5.25% and 5.5%.
Inflation has fallen significantly from a peak last summer, but remains at a level one percentage point higher than the Federal Reserve's target of 2%.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell downplayed the progress achieved so far in reducing inflation.
"Inflation has moderated somewhat since the middle of last year," Powell said. "Nonetheless, the process of getting inflation back down to 2% has a long way to go."
The Fed remains open to raising rates again at its next meeting in September, depending on the economic data released over the months prior to that decision, Powell added.
The central bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged in June, ending a string of 10 consecutive rate increases that stretched back 15 months.
Prior to the announcement on Wednesday, economists surveyed by Bloomberg said they expected the move to be the last rate increase of the current inflation battle. The size of the rate hike on Wednesday matched economist expectations.
For more than a year, the Federal Reserve has aimed to roll back price increases by slowing down the economy and slashing consumer demand. The approach, however, risks tipping the economy into a recession.
So far, the rate hikes appear to have slowed but not imperiled the nation's economic growth.
Some key economic indicators have sustained robust performance. A jobs report earlier this month showed that the labor market cooled, but still grew at a solid clip in June, adding 209,000 jobs.
"The U.S. economy has actually been quite resilient," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said late last month in Sentra, Portugal, at a conference organized by the European Central Bank.
A day later, a major upward revision of government data showed that gross domestic product increased at a 2% annualized rate for a three-month period ending in March -- a sizable jump from the previous estimate of 1.3%.
Despite the upward revision, U.S. economic growth over the first three months of this year was slower than the 2.6% growth in the previous quarter. In turn, that performance was down from 3.2% growth in the previous quarter.
Still, the Fed offered words of caution along with its rate-hike announcement on Wednesday.
"The Committee remains highly attentive to inflation risks," the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's decision-making body on interest rates, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The cooldown of inflation alongside resilient economic performance has given rise to optimism among some observers that the U.S. will avert a recession.
Nearly three-quarters of forecasters surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics said the probability of the U.S. entering a recession in the next 12 months is 50% or less, the organization announced on Monday.
Speaking late last month, Powell expressed cautious optimism that the U.S. could avoid a severe recession, citing a modest slowdown of wage growth in recent months.
As part of its inflation fight, the Fed closely watches the pace of wage growth, since in theory employers raise prices to keep up with higher pay.
"We're getting the softening we need," Powell said. "We're getting it slower than expected but it's nonetheless happening. In my view, the least unlikely case is that we do find a way to better balance without a severe downturn," he added.