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Fed holds rates near zero, says economy has gotten better even with pandemic worries

Fed holds rates near zero, says economy has gotten better even with pandemic worries

28 Jul 2021

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday held its benchmark interest rate near zero and said the economy continues to progress despite concerns over the pandemic spread.

As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee concluded its two-day meeting by keeping interest rates in a target range near zero.

Along with that, the committee reiterated its view that the economy continues to “strengthen.”

“The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic have shown improvement but have not fully recovered” the post-meeting statement said. “Inflation has risen, largely reflecting transitory factors. Overall financial conditions remain accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.”

The statement noted that “progress” has been made towards the Fed’s goals on employment and inflation, a nod that changes to policy, particularly regarding the monthly bond purchases, could be on the way.

Stocks moved little on the news, with the major averages still in negative territory.

With the Fed likely on hold relative to interest rates at least until late-2022, investors have been looking for clues as to when the monthly bond purchases might start to be pulled back.

The central bank currently is purchasing at least $120 billion a month in bonds, with at least $80 billion going to Treasurys and another $40 billion floor on mortgage-backed securities. Critics say the Fed’s mortgage purchases are helping stoke another housing bubble, with prices at record levels even though sales have tailed off amid tightening supply.

Some Fed officials have said they would be willing to entertain cutting back on mortgages first. Chairman Jerome Powell, though, has said several times that the mortgage purchases are having only a minimal effect on housing.

On the broader economy, the Fed has kept its foot to the accelerator despite some of the fastest post-World War II growth the U.S. has ever seen. Second-quarter GDP numbers are out Thursday, with the Dow Jones estimate at 8.4% annualized growth for the April-to-June period. That would be the fastest pace since early 1983, not counting last year’s outsized Q3 growth as the economy reopened from the pandemic shutdown.

The Fed has faced growing inflation fears, with consumer prices running at their highest since just before the financial crisis of 2008. However, officials insist the current surge is temporary and will abate once supply chain bottlenecks ease, demand returns to normal levels, and certain items, particularly used car prices, also get back to baseline.

Heading into this week’s meeting, markets were pricing in zero chance of any rate increases this year, and a 54.4% chance of an increase before the end of 2022, according to CME’s FedWatch tool.

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