US Fed lifts key interest rate, Wall Street jumps on Powell’s comments

Washington: The Federal Reserve delivered the biggest interest-rate increase since 2000 and signalled it would keep hiking at that pace over the next couple of meetings, unleashing the most aggressive policy action in decades to combat soaring inflation.

The US central bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to increase the benchmark rate by 0.5 per cent. It will begin allowing its holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to decline in June at an initial combined monthly pace of $US47.5 billion ($66 billion), stepping up over three months to $US95 billion.

Jerome Powell dashed speculation the Fed was weighing an even larger increase of 75 basis points in the months ahead, saying that it is “not something that the committee is actively considering.“.Credit:AP

“Inflation is much too high and we understand the hardship it is causing and we are moving expeditiously to bring it back down,” Chair Jerome Powell said after the decision in his first in-person press conference since the pandemic began. He added that there was “a broad sense on the committee that additional 50 basis-point increases should be on the table for the next couple of meetings.”

Treasuries and stocks rallied as Powell dashed speculation the Fed was weighing an even larger increase of 75 basis points in the months ahead, saying that it is “not something that the committee is actively considering.”

In late trade, the S&P 500 is 1.8 per cent higher, the Dow Jones has added 2.1 per cent and the Nasdaq has jumped by 2.4 per cent. The Australian sharemarket is set to open higher, with futures at 5.05am AEST pointing to a rise of 20 points, or 0.3 per cent, at the open. The Australian dollar jumped as the greenback weakened. At 5.22am AEST, it is 1.8 per cent higher at 72.22 US cents.

Wednesday’s increase in the FOMC’s target for the federal funds rate, to a range of 0.75 per cent to 1 per cent, follows a quarter-point hike in March that ended two years of near-zero rates to help cushion the US economy against the initial blow from COVID-19.

Policy makers, who widely signalled their intention to step up the pace of rate increases, are trying to curb the hottest inflation since the early 1980s. Back then, Chair Paul Volcker raised rates as high as 20 per cent and crushed both inflation and the broader economy in the process. The Fed’s hope this time around is that the combination of higher borrowing costs and a shrinking balance sheet will deliver a soft landing that avoids recession while tamping down inflation.

Price pressures

The personal consumption expenditures price index, the Fed’s preferred gauge, rose 6.6 per cent in the year through March, more than triple the central bank’s goal — and anger at price pressures among Americans is hammering the approval ratings of President Joe Biden, dimming the prospects for his Democrats in November mid-term congressional elections.

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