Economists expect another jumbo-sized increase in borrowing costs when the Federal Reserve announces its interest rate decision on Wednesday. Mounting evidence suggests that previous rate hikes have slowed key areas of the economy but inflation remains highly elevated.
The move would mark the latest in a string of borrowing cost increases imposed by the Fed in recent months as it tries to slash price increases by cooling the economy and choking off demand. But the approach risks tipping the U.S. into a recession and putting millions out of work.
Arriving less than a week before the midterm elections, the rate hike would indicate that the central bank considers inflation a continued threat to the U.S. economy.
Data on consumer prices released last month showed that costs rose 0.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis in September, defying efforts to bring prices down. Consumer prices overall rose 8.2% over the 12 months ending in September, exceeding economists’ predictions.
The Federal Reserve is expected to raise the benchmark interest rate by 0.75%, repeating the same hike it imposed at each of the last three meetings, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. Prior to this year, the Fed last matched a hike of this magnitude in 1994.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on several occasions has reiterated the central bank’s commitment to bring inflation down to a target rate of 2%, saying in September the Fed expects to put forward “ongoing increases” to its benchmark interest rate.
The personal consumption expenditures price index – the inflation measure preferred by the Fed – stands at a year-over-year growth rate of 5.1%, government data showed last week.
“Powell has been very clear that inflation is unacceptably high and we have to stay the course to get it down,” Anne Villamil, an economist at Iowa University, told ABC News. “Markets have been a little hopeful that we could have a pause – I don’t see that happening.”
Despite persistent inflation, growing evidence suggests that the Fed’s moves have put the brakes on some economic activity.
Mortgage rates reached a 20-year high last week, as the U.S. faces an ongoing slowdown in home sales and housing construction.
Job growth has persisted at a strong rate but has shown signs of moderating.
U.S. employers added 263,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 3.5% from 3.7%, exceeding expectations and demonstrating the continued strength of the labor market.
But the total came in well below the typical jobs added over a given month in 2022. Monthly job growth has averaged 420,000 so far this year versus 562,000 per month in 2021, according to the Department of Labor.
Meanwhile, hires and quits fell slightly in September, suggesting that the demand for labor from employers has begun to ebb, government data released on Tuesday showed. The number of job openings, however, increased in September, a sign that the need for workers remains robust.
While some data points to an economic slowdown, a government report released last month showed significant economic growth over three months ending in September. U.S. gross domestic product grew 2.6% over that period; by contrast, economic activity shrank a combined 2.2% over the first six months of the year.
“We’re getting these very conflicting signals,” Villamil said. “That’s why the Fed has a tough job.”