Fed set to make another decision on rates. What are the odds of a cut?


With the Federal Reserve set to release its latest policy statement on Wednesday, inflation-weary consumers are eager to learn when the central bank might start cutting its benchmark interest rate, providing some relief from high borrowing costs. 

Unfortunately for consumers, the Fed is widely expected to keep rates steady amid stubbornly high inflation, which remains more than a percentage point above the central bank’s annualized target of about 2%. 

Almost all economists polled by financial data firm FactSet are predicting that monetary policy makers will maintain the federal funds rate in a range of 5.25% to 5.5% — the highest level in 23 years, and where it’s sat since the Fed’s July 2023 meeting. Still, consumers and investors alike will be listening for clues about the Fed’s rate outlook. 

Federal Reserve officials earlier this year were forecasting three rate cuts, but stubbornly high inflation has clouded its timeline for easing borrowing costs.

“Inflation is proving to be sticky in the near term, and continues to linger above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target,” said Stephen J. Rich, CEO of Mutual of America Capital Management, in an email. “This will likely keep the Fed on hold through the summer, although the consensus is that inflation will gradually decline over the remainder of the year.”

The delay in cutting rates is hurting lower- and middle-income consumers, who are struggling on two fronts, Rich noted: Inflation remains elevated, raising the costs of everything from groceries to rent, while borrowing costs are also high, making it more expensive to carry credit card debt or take out a loan. 

Here’s what to expect from the upcoming Fed meeting, and beyond. 

When will the Federal Reserve cut rates?

Many economists still think the Fed will cut rates at some point in 2024—just not at the June 12 meeting. 

According to FactSet, about 9 in 10 economists are predicting that the Fed will also keep rates steady at its July 31 meeting. The first chance of some relief could be at the central bank’s September 18 meeting, with about half of economists penciling in the year’s first rate cut for that date.

On the other hand, most economists don’t expect the Fed to increase rates given that inflation has steadily receded from its recent peak of 9.1% in June 2022. In April, consumer prices were rising at an annual rate of 3.4%. The Personal Consumption Index — the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge in making rate decisions — in April was up 2.7% from a year ago.

How many times is the Fed likely to cut rates in 2024?

Wall Street and consumers alike will be watching for clues from the Fed about whether the bank continues to predict three rate cuts in 2024, which it had indicated earlier this year. Some economists are already scaling back their forecasts for the number of rate cuts they expect for 2024. For example, Solita Marcelli of UBS Global Wealth Management predicts two cuts this year, with the first one occurring in September. 

The Fed on Wednesday will also issue updated economic projections, which are expected to show that they envision one or two rate cuts by year-end, down from a forecast of three in March.

What is influencing the Fed’s decision on interest rates? 

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has repeatedly stated that the central bank prefers keep rates elevated until inflation falls closer to its 2% goal because of the risk that cutting too soon could fuel another round of price spikes. 

Although inflation has retreated from its 2022 highs, it’s remained at an annual rate of about 3.4% to 3.5% so far in 2024, fueled in particular by higher housing costs. According to the Fed’s statement after its May 1 meeting, that suggests “a lack of further progress” on defeating inflation.

The Department of Labor is scheduled Wednesday to release the Consumer Price Index for May. Economists expect inflation last month to come in at 3.4%, or unchanged from April, according to FactSet.

But if the inflation data shows shows further signs of improvement, it could help give policymakers the confidence to dial back their benchmark rate within a few months. 

How will the Fed’s decision impact mortgages and other loans?

If the Fed leaves rates unchanged, consumers are likely to continue paying more for mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt. 

Mortgage rates aren’t directly set by the Fed, but its benchmark rate influences them. Without a rate cut on the horizon, mortgage rates could hover around 7% for a while, although that could fluctuate based on other economic factors, noted LendingTree senior economist Jacob Channel.

“It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Fed isn’t going to lower interest rates anytime soon,” noted Matt Schulz, LendingTree credit analyst, in an email. “It might hurt those struggling with debt to hear that, but that’s likely the unfortunate reality for the next several months.”

Consumers with credit card debt should focus on paying off their balances or looking at options such as balance-transfer cards, he noted.

If there’s a bright spot for consumers, it’s that high-interest rate savings accounts, certificates of deposit and other products continue to be available. Even so, some banks have lowered their rates slightly in expectation that the Fed will cut rates at some point this year, noted Ken Tumin, banking expert at DepositAccounts.com. 

—With reporting by the Associated Press.



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