The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left its key benchmark rate unchanged despite renewed calls by President Donald Trump to cut interest rates.
Policymakers led by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell unanimously agreed to leave rates alone, sticking with the wait-and-see approach outlined earlier this year amid uncertainty about where the US economy is headed.
“We don’t see a strong case for moving in either direction,” said Powell at a press conference following the Fed’s two-day meeting in Washington.” The committee is comfortable with our current policy stance.”
Fears of a slowdown have subsided in the wake of positive news from China, and trade tensions between Washington and Beijing appear to be easing as negotiators work toward a deal. Powell said global cross-currents apparent at the start of the year have “moderated somewhat,” including the extension of Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Central bankers agreed at their regular policy-setting meeting in Washington to keep the federal funds rate between 2.25% and 2.5%. That rate influences the cost of mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing.
“In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate to support these outcomes,” the Federal Open Market Committee’s policy statement read.
The Fed said the country’s labor market remains “strong” with economic activity continuing to rise at a “solid rate,” while noting a slowdown in household spending and business investment in the first quarter.
The Fed has remained unmoved despite Trump’s public pressure, including this week, to slash interest rates and allow the US economy to grow even faster than it already is.
“We have the potential to go up like a rocket if we do some lowering of rates, like one point, and some quantitative easing,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Yes, we are doing very well at 3.2% GDP, but with our wonderfully low inflation, we could be setting major records &, at the same time, make our National Debt start to look small!”
Powell, a Trump pick, attracted the President’s ire last year after repeated rate hikes, just as the economy showed signs of weakening amid Trump’s trade wars. A December stock market swoon intensified the President’s broadsides against Powell, who Trump described as “loco” over rate increases.
At the press conference, the Fed chief defended the independence of the institution, saying the central bank is “non-political” organization that “doesn’t think about short-term considerations,” including political considerations.
“We don’t discuss them and we don’t consider them in making our decisions one way or the other,” said Powell.
The former investment banker has responded by increasing his outreach to the President, dining at the White House last winter, as well as to Congress. But he’s made clear that he will make his policy decisions based on data. Since the start of the year, Powell has said the US economy remains steady, arguing he’s in “no hurry” to raise rates amid a number of risks to the global economy.
In March, the Fed took its patient approach even further, suggesting it would abandon plans to slowly continue raising rates this year and instead hold off on raising rates indefinitely until it has a better handle on where the economy is going for the rest of the year.
“I think we’re in a good place right now,” Powell told reporters at a press conference following last month’s two-day interest-setting meeting in Washington. “We’re being patient. We’re watching. We don’t see any data pushing us to move rates in any direction.”
But with recent data showing inflation slowing below the Fed’s 2% target, investors are looking for signs that Powell will return to his previous program of raising rates, which have been held at historically low levels since the 2008 financial crisis.
Powell said he anticipates inflation to reach the Fed’s target “over time,” adding the recent weakness is likely transitory.