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Fed announces interest rate decision

The Federal Reserve reduced interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis and hinted it may cut again this year to insulate the record-long U.S. economic expansion from slowing global growth.

Central bankers voted, with two officials dissenting, to lower the target range for the benchmark rate by a quarter-percentage point to 2%-2.25%. The shift was predicted by most investors and economists, yet will disappoint President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday he wanted a “large cut.’’

“In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the committee decided to lower’’ rates, the Federal Open Market Committee, led by Jerome Powell, said in a statement following a two-day meeting in Washington. It also noted that “uncertainties” about the economic outlook remain.

Officials also stopped shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet effective Aug. 1, ending a process that very modestly tightens monetary policy and was previously scheduled to come to a close at the end of September.

Policy makers appeared open to another cut as early as September when they next convene while sticking with wording in their statement that preserves their options.

“As the committee contemplates the future path of the target range for the federal funds rate, it will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” they said.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston’s Eric Rosengren voted against the cut. The statement said they “preferred at this meeting to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate.” It was the first time since Powell took over as chairman in February 2018 that two policy makers dissented.

Investors had forecast the Fed to continue easing monetary policy this year, with futures pricing the key rate to fall about another half-point by January. U.S. stocks rose to a record last week in anticipation of easier money, while the yield on two-year Treasuries has undershot 2% since May.

While the domestic economy has performed relatively well, the Fed cut amid concern that softness abroad threatens the decade- long U.S. expansion. Trump’s trade war with China is hurting foreign demand. Data released earlier Wednesday showed the pace of quarter-over-quarter growth in the euro area slowed by half in the latest three months to 0.2%.

In the U.S., after growing 2.5% last year, fuelled by now-fading tax cuts and higher government spending, the economy expanded at a 2.1% annualized pace in the second quarter. The trade dispute was blamed for a manufacturing slowdown and the first drop in business investment since 2016.

In their assessment of the US economy, officials made only minor changes to their statement language.

Powell has repeatedly said the Fed’s “overarching goal’’ is to keep growth going. Acting now, when the central bank has less room to pare rates than in past downturns, is partly aimed at getting ahead of any potential slump.

Lacklustre inflation also offered the Fed space and reason to ease. Its preferred price gauge, excluding food and energy, rose 1.6% in June from a year earlier and hasn’t met the Fed’s 2% target this year.

Trump is unlikely to be satisfied as he puts the economy at the heart of his re-election bid. He has broken with convention and undermined the Fed’s political independence by lobbying it to loosen policy and publicly questioning his nomination of Powell as chairman.

At his press conference, Powell will almost certainly be asked if the Fed buckled to that pressure. He may also be quizzed on whether the Fed, if requested, would join the U.S. Treasury in any effort to weaken the dollar given Trump’s complaints about the currency’s value.

Limited Scope

While Trump and some investors wanted the Fed to be more aggressive, its scope for doing so is limited. Stocks are high, unemployment is around the lowest in a half-century and consumers continue to spend. At the same time, a measure of business in the Chicago region fell this month to the lowest since late 2015.

The rate reduction was the first since December 2008 when the Fed dropped its benchmark effectively to zero as it battled recession and financial crisis. It began raising borrowing costs in December 2015, doing so another eight times. Officials indicated as recently as December they intended to continue to hike this year.

They dumped that plan in January as financial markets fretted monetary policy had become too restrictive.

Fellow central banks are set to follow the Fed. Those in IndiaSouth Africa and Australia are among those to have cut this year. The European Central Bank has indicated it will do so in September.

A worry for policy makers is that a decade of easy money leaves them short of ammunition for fighting a serious downturn. That likely means governments will face demands to do more if economies keep struggling.

 

Copyright Bloomberg News

by Bloomberg 31 Jul 2019

Bank of Canada keeps benchmark interest rate at 1.75%

Central Bank has hiked key rate five times since summer of 2017

The Bank of Canada kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 1.75 per cent Wednesday, despite a few dark clouds appearing on Canada’s economic horizon. 

The bank has raised its key rate five times since the summer of 2017, attempting to keep inflation in an acceptable range, typically between one and three per cent annually. The bank last raised its rate in October, before deciding to do nothing in December and then again today.

The bank’s rate affects consumers by raising or lowering the rates that Canadian borrowers and savers get for lines of credit, savings accounts, and variable-rate mortgages.

The bank also downgraded its expectations for Canada’s economy this year. A 25 percent plunge in the price of oil since October has had a “material impact” on the economy, to the point where the bank is now forecasting just 1.7 percent growth this year. Three months ago, it was expecting 2.1 percent growth.

But despite that slowdown, the bank still indicated it plans to raise the rate again sooner rather than later. “The policy interest rate will need to rise over time into a neutral range to achieve the inflation target,” the bank said.

At a press conference following the announcement, Poloz said the slowdown in the oil sector is acute, but so far the impact is being offset by strength elsewhere in the economy.

“By all of our readings, something like 90 percent of the economy is operating at capacity, having trouble finding workers, struggling to invest and to grow, and so on. So we have to pay a lot of attention to that, while at the same time acknowledging that the economy will always have the stresses of some form of something declining,” he said.

“There are a whole lot of other things … going on out there that are actually doing very well,” he said, adding that he expects the impact on overall GDP to be less than the oil slowdown in 2014 was because the energy sector isn’t as big a part of the Canadian economy anymore.

 

 

That sentiment buoyed the loonie, which gained about a third of a cent to 75.73 cents US after the decision came out.

Like just about every economist covering the bank, CIBC’s Avery Shenfeld wasn’t expecting the central bank to announce a hike on Wednesday, but he found the bank’s rationale for its decision interesting nonetheless.

“Its message today suggests that it isn’t quite as sure about when it will come off the sidelines and hike again,” he said.

Stephen Brown with Capital Economics had a slightly more subdued take.

“The bank continues to think that further interest rate hikes are necessary, despite a host of factors that are weighing on the outlook,” he said. “But if we’re right that oil and housing will be a bigger drag on growth than the bank expects, then further interest rate hikes are very unlikely and the odds of interest rate cuts will rise in the coming quarters.”

TD Bank economist Brian DePratto said that on the whole, the bank seems to be taking a cautious approach, but is still on a path to higher rates.

“The roller-coaster ride of the past few months has brought a note of greater caution to the Bank of Canada’s communications, and today’s decision looks to be an extension of that,” he said.

“Governor Poloz and company still see more rate hikes down the road, but aren’t in any great rush to get there.”

 

Pete Evans · CBC News · 

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