Fed Maintains Steady Interest Rates, Signals Potential Cuts in 2024

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In its final meeting of the year, the US Federal Reserve opted to keep interest rates unchanged, holding the range between 5.25% and 5.5%. This decision, marking the third consecutive meeting with stable rates, indicates a potential end to the tightening cycle initiated in March 2022. Anticipation surrounding the rate decision was heightened, but it was the forward-looking outlook that stirred notable reactions in financial markets.

Shift in Fed’s Policy: A More Accommodative Stance

The updated Summary of Economic Projections unveiled a significant shift in the Fed’s policy towards a more accommodative stance. The ‘dot plot’ now eliminates hints of further rate hikes, revealing a median preference for the fed funds rate to drop to 4.6% by the end of 2024, implying a potential 75 basis points of rate cuts. This dovish turn contrasts with the September projection, where rates were expected to decline to only 5.1% by the end of 2024.

Economic Growth Projections and Cautionary Notes

While Fed officials revised upward their GDP growth estimates for the current year, they anticipate a slowdown in 2024, with the median forecast easing to 1.4%. The December policy statement notes that the “growth of economic activity slowed from its strong pace in the third quarter.” Despite positive growth figures, the Fed remains cautious about the trajectory.

Inflation Outlook Shows Improvement

On the positive side, the inflation outlook displayed signs of improvement. The Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) price index is expected to decline to 2.4% in 2024 and 2.1% in 2025, eventually reaching the 2% target in 2026. Excluding energy and food prices, both estimates were modestly lowered from the September projections, signaling increased confidence in the ongoing disinflationary trend.

Market Response and Future Expectations

Fed Chair Powell’s press conference statements fueled optimism in the markets. Powell acknowledged discussions within the Fed about potential rate reductions, signaling a departure from the restrictive monetary policy stance. Market sentiment improved sharply, with investors favoring risky assets. Speculators now foresee the likelihood of rate cuts starting as early as March 2023, as indicated by money market pricing. The market rally saw stocks and bonds surge, the US dollar decline, and increased optimism for a positive economic trajectory. Investors are now keenly awaiting interest rate decisions from the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.

SOURCE: Ref Image from The Guardian

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