As expected the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee kept the central bank’s benchmark interest rate at 0% to 0.25% and left its bond buying program on a path to buy $120 billion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed assets a month.
Unexpectedly, though, the bank indicated that a reduction in that bond buying program could happen “soon.” progress toward the Fed’s employment and inflation goals “continues broadly as expected, the committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted,” the central bank’s said Wednesday in a statement following its two-day meeting.
The Fed’s dot plot survey of central bank officials also revealed a move toward raising interest rates earlier than in the last survey in June. Officials are now evenly split on whether or not it will be appropriate to begin raising the federal funds rate as soon as next year, according to the median estimate of FOMC participants. In June, the median projection indicated no rate increases until 2023. The Fed’s dot plot now shows the median opinion projecting three to four total rate hikes by the end of 2023. Through the end of 2024, the median member of the Open Market Committee sees six to seven total rate hikes. (I’m not holding my breath. 2024 is a long way off and there’s a lot of news to flow under the bridge by then. Much of it would argue for fewer interest rate hikes and even a rate cut or two.)
This meeting also came with new updates on the Fed’s economic projections and the first projections for 2024. The median projection for inflation in 2022 rose to 2.2% from 2.1% in June. The projection for 2023 held steady at 2.2%. (Interesting and perhaps whistling in the dark: the inflation rate according to the Fed’s preferred measure was 4.2% in the 12 month ended in July.)
The central bank raised its projections for GPD growth to 3.8% in 2022 and 25% in 2023. Both are higher than the June projection. But the Fed also lowered its projection for 2021 GDP gown to 5.9% from a 7% projection in June.
Projections for unemployment rose to a 4.8% rate by the end of 2021. That was up from a previous projection of 4.5% but slightly below the 5.2% unemployment rate in August.
Stay tuned for the financial market’s reaction to the Fed news and to Fed chair Jerome Powell’s press conference at 2:30 p.m. New York time.