Fed policymakers agree: there's no urgency to cut rates


FEDERAL Reserve policymakers have coalesced around the idea of keeping borrowing costs where they are until perhaps well into the year, given slow and bumpy progress on inflation, and a still-strong U.S. economy.

On Thursday New York Fed President John Williams became the latest U.S. rate-setter to embrace the "no rush" on rate cuts view articulated in February by Fed Governor Christopher Waller and since echoed by many of his colleagues.

"I definitely don't feel urgency to cut interest rates" given the strength of the economy, Williams said at the Semafor's World Economy Summit in Washington. "I think eventually...interest rates will need to be lower at some point, but the timing of that is driven by the economy."

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, in comments late on Wednesday, also said the Fed will likely cut rates "at some point," steering clear of the later "this year" language she - and Williams - had previously used.

Speaking in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Thursday, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic offered "the end of the year" as his view of the likely timing for a first rate cut, saying "I'm comfortable being patient."

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari told Fox News Channel he also wants to be "patient," with the first rate cut "potentially" not appropriate until next year.

As recently as a few weeks ago many policymakers signaled they expected hotter-than-expected inflation in early 2024 would give way to cooler readings in the face of the Fed's tight monetary policy, necessitating several rate cuts before the end of the year to prevent policy from slowing the economy too much.

But strong growth in jobs, a third-month-in-a-row upside surprise on inflation in March, and robust retail spending among other recent economic indicators have convinced more central bankers that rate cuts ought to wait.

Earlier this week Fed Vice Chair Philip Jefferson omitted any reference to the appropriate timing for rate cuts, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell said it's likely to take longer to get enough confidence on inflation's decline to reduce borrowing costs.

As San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly put it on Monday, "the worst thing to do is act urgently when urgency is not required."

With Fed rhetoric shifting and the labor market data showing few signs of cracks, financial markets have also moved to price in fewer and later rate cuts. Futures contracts that settle to the Fed's policy rate now reflect expectations that the first reduction comes in September, versus June just a few weeks ago. The odds of a second rate cut by the end of the year have dropped to about 50-50, based on the CME FedWatch Tool.

A Reuters poll released on Thursday showed economists are on the same page.

Inflation by the Fed's targeted measure, the personal consumption expenditures price index, was 2.5% in February, and Fed policymakers say they expect the March reading of core PCE - a gauge of where inflation is heading - to be even higher. The Fed targets 2% inflation.

That has even raised questions of whether the Fed may have to hike rates again to ensure price pressures ebb. Williams said that appears unlikely but noted that it was impossible to rule out.

Bostic, in an appearance in Miami late on Thursday, said that stalled progress on inflation, while not his expectation, would mean "I'd have to be open to increasing rates."

Fed policymakers next meet April 30-May 1 and are expected keep the policy rate in the 5.25%-5.5% range, where it has been since last July. - Reuters

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