The Federal Reserve has decided to hold rates interest rates for a second consecutive meeting but left open the possibility of further rate hikes.
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In its 1st November meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) approved a pause in rate hikes, which kept the benchmark interest rate at 5.5%. The probability of a pause prior to the meeting was close to 100%, which meant that a rate hike would have been nothing short of a huge shock. The Fed has now paused twice in a row after 11 consecutive rate increases within the current tightening cycle.
The FMOC statement noted that “economic activity expanded at a strong pace in the third quarter,” an upgrade compared with the September statement which said the economy had expanded at a “solid pace”.
The key quote in the FOMC statement was: “Tighter financial and credit conditions for households and businesses are likely to weigh on economic activity, hiring, and inflation.” This was in reference to the recent rise in US Treasury yields, which has raised borrowing costs and could dampen inflation without the Fed having to raise rates.
The statement did not rule out further hikes in the coming months, but the markets didn’t seem very convinced. Although the decision to hold rates was widely expected, there was a strong reaction in the financial markets, as equity markets rose, and the US Dollar lost ground.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell tried to sound hawkish stated at a post-meeting press conference, saying that there was “a long way to go” to get inflation down to 2% and that the Fed had not yet decided for the December meeting. The markets, however, aren’t buying what Powell is trying to sell and believe that the Fed’s current tightening cycle is done and that 2024 will bring rate cuts rather than rate hikes. The markets have priced in the probability of a pause at the December meeting at 80%, which means expectations for a rate hike are low.
In the US, the major stock indices climbed higher on Wednesday (US markets have not yet opened on Thursday). The S&P 500 Index rose 44.06 points (1.05%) to close at 4,237.86 while the Nasdaq 100 Index climbed 255.12 points (1.77%) to close at 14,664.90.