The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept its foot on the ground regarding aid it is providing to an economy that central bank officials say it has slowed.
In line with market expectations, the Federal Open Market Committee said it had anchored its short-term benchmark interest rate near zero and maintained an asset-buying program that saw the Fed buy at least $ 120 billion a month.
“The economy is far from our monetary and inflationary targets and it will likely take some time to make significant further progress,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at his press conference after the meeting. The policy will “remain extremely accommodative as the recovery progresses,” he added.
At the center of efforts to keep politics historically accommodative has been an economy in which the sectors most vulnerable to the pandemic are hardest hit.
“The pace of recovery in economic activity and employment has slowed in recent months, with weakness focusing on the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic,” the committee said after the meeting.
The statement reiterated that Covid-19 “is causing enormous human and economic hardship in the United States and around the world”.
Otherwise, the committee left the statement unchanged, apart from its position that growth will depend on the pandemic.
“The way the economy goes will depend largely on the course of the virus, including progress on vaccinations,” the statement said.
The decision means that the Fed Funds Rate, which serves as the benchmark for a wide variety of consumer debt, will remain anchored in a range between 0% and 0.25% and was most recently trading at 0.08%.
The Fed brought the key rate to zero in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and has kept it there ever since. In recent months, officials have made their low interest engagement even more aggressive, promising not to start hiking even if inflation hits or slightly exceeds the central bank’s 2% target.
Markets watched, however, whether the statement would suggest the future of asset purchases or quantitative easing. Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the Fed has expanded its holdings by more than $ 3 trillion and increased its balance sheet to nearly $ 7.5 trillion.
Although inflation remains low for the moment, investors fear that the Fed may unexpectedly curtail purchases if conditions change and cause market turmoil.
“It’s just premature on rejuvenation. We just put the guidelines in place. We said we wanted to see significant further progress toward our goals before we change our asset buying guidelines,” said Powell. “It’s just too early to talk about deadlines. We should focus on the progress that we need to see.”
He also reiterated his promise that the market will be given ample guidance before it actually rejuvenates.
“When we see that we have got to that point we will be making this clear to the public so no one will be surprised when the time comes, and we will do so before we actually ask ourselves if it is a fairly gradual one Tapering will be, “Powell said.
Powell says the Fed is not pushing asset prices
The chairman spoke on a tumultuous day on Wall Street as averages plummeted in a frenzy of the market’s most shortened stocks. Investors on the social media network Reddit have teamed up to buy stocks that bigger Wal Street players have bet against, kick off wild swings and send the Dow industrials down sharply.
However, as at the January meeting, Powell denied that the Fed’s loose monetary policy played a role in market valuations.
“If you look at what has really been driving asset prices over the past few months, it’s not monetary policy. It’s vaccine expectations, it’s fiscal policy too,” he said. “That’s the news that has led to assets in the past few months.”
Fed officials remain cautious in an economy that has rebounded in two directions, with earners in the upper income brackets doing well and lower earners, particularly service workers, doing badly. This inequality has provided much of the impetus for the Fed’s flexible average inflation target regime.
As part of the approach, the Fed will no longer raise interest rates in anticipation of inflation, but will tolerate higher rates in the interests of a broader recovery. In the past, when the unemployment rate fell to levels compatible with what appeared to be full employment, the Fed introduced preventive increases to halt inflation.
The current economy is showing conflicting signs of inflation, with housing and material costs rising and service inflation falling.
From a macro point of view, the economy grew strongly overall in the fourth quarter, although activity slowed towards the end of the year. The Commerce Department released fourth quarter GDP on Thursday and expects an increase of 4.3%, according to economists polled by Dow Jones. On Friday, the Fed’s preferred inflation meter, the deflator for personal consumption expenditure, is expected to see a core year-over-year increase of 1.3%.