Federal Reserve won’t likely raise rates next week

ap photo
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during the Thomas Laubach Research Conference at the William McChesney Martin Jr. Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington on May 19.



WASHINGTON — Don’t call it a “pause.”

When the Federal Reserve meets next week, it is widely expected to leave interest rates alone — after 10 straight meetings in which it has jacked up its key rate to fight inflation.

But what might otherwise be seen as a “pause” will likely be characterized instead as a “skip.” The difference? A “pause” might suggest that the Fed may not raise its benchmark rate again. A “skip” implies that it probably will — just not now.

The purpose of suspending its rate hikes is to give the Fed’s policymakers time to look around and assess how much higher borrowing rates are slowing inflation. Calling next week’s decision a “skip” is also a way for Chair Jerome Powell to forge a consensus among an increasingly fractious committee of Fed policymakers.

One group of Fed officials would like to pause their hikes and decide, over time, whether to increase rates any further.

But a second group worries that inflation is still too high and would prefer that the Fed continue hiking at least once or twice more — beginning next week.

A “skip” serves as compromise.

When the Fed chair speaks at a news conference next Wednesday, he will likely make clear that the central bank’s key rate — which has elevated the costs of mortgages, auto loans, credit card and business borrowing — may eventually go even higher.

The clearest signal that a skip, rather than a pause, is in the works will likely be seen in the quarterly economic projections that policymakers will issue Wednesday. Those may show that officials expect their key rate to rise a quarter-point by year’s end — to about 5.4 percent, above their estimate in March.

“That’s probably the only way to keep the committee cohesive in an environment where they have seem to have somewhat broadening disagreements,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities.

For more than a year, the Fed’s 18-member rate-setting committee has presented a united front: The officials were nearly unanimous in their support for rapid rate hikes to throttle a burst of inflation that had leapt to the highest level in four decades. (The committee has 19 members at full strength; one spot is now vacant.)

The Fed raised its rate by a substantial 5 percentage points in 14 months — the fastest pace of increases in 40 years, to a 16-year high. The policymakers hope that the resulting tighter credit will slow spending, cool the economy and curb inflation.

The rate increases have led to sharply higher mortgage rates, which have contributed to a steep fall in home sales. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage has nearly doubled, from 3.8 percent in March 2022 to 6.8 percent now. Compared with a year ago, sales of existing homes have tumbled by nearly a quarter.

Credit card rates have also climbed higher — topping 20 percent on average nationwide, up from 16.3 percent before the Fed’s rate hikes began. Many consumers have had to bear the weight of that costlier cost credit card debt.

Auto loans have grown more expensive, too. The average rate on a five-year loan has jumped from 4.5 percent early last year to 7.5 percent in the first three months of this year.

Several Fed officials contend that rates are already high enough to slow hiring and growth and that if they go much higher, they could cause a deep recession. This concern has left policymakers deeply divided about their next steps.

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