Bloomberg / Washington
Federal Reserve officials said the labour market and inflation have made progress towards preconditions for tapping the brakes on their robust support for the US economy, even as the delta variant of the coronavirus poses an increasing threat to growth.
The central bank kept the target range for its benchmark policy rate unchanged at zero to 0.25% and adjusted language to say that it had pledged in December to continue asset purchases at a $120bn monthly pace until “substantial further progress” had been made on employment and inflation.
“The economy has made progress toward these goals, and the committee will continue to assess progress in coming meetings,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement released Wednesday.
They repeated language that inflation had run persistently below the Fed’s long-run 2% goal. The Fed also announced that it established two standing repurchase-agreement facilities.
“These facilities will serve as backstops in money markets to support the effective implementation of monetary policy and smooth market functioning,” the Fed said in a separate statement.
Stocks pared losses, the dollar rose and 10-year Treasury yields advanced.
Consumer prices are rising at the fastest pace since 2008 as the economy reopens and Americans renew spending after a year of lockdown.
At the same time, the spreading delta variant of the coronavirus has jolted investors who worry Since last September, the Fed has set the amount of its monthly purchases of Treasuries at $80bn and mortgage-backed securities at $40bn to help the economy heal from Covid-19. Powell has said the Fed would begin talking about when and how to taper its bond purchases at this meeting. He’s also promised plenty of advance warning before any decision to start scaling them back.
Some officials have said they would like to begin the taper sooner rather than later, citing financial-stability concerns including the steep rise in home prices. They’ve also argued the Fed should reduce its MBS purchases at a faster pace than Treasuries because the housing market no longer needs central bank support.
The July meeting comes a month ahead of the Kansas City Fed’s annual policy retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Fed chairs, including Powell, have sometimes used the venue to signal policy shifts. The next gathering of the FOMC is September 21-22.
Any move to shrink policy support will be based on progress on the Fed’s goals for jobs and inflation.
Employment has made significant strides in the past few months, with the unemployment rate falling below 6% as more jobs are added and more workers rejoin the labour force. But the gains haven’t been equal for all Americans – the Black unemployment rate stood at 9.2% and the Hispanic rate at 7.4% in June. While inflation is running well above the Fed’s 2% target, officials have said that price spikes are likely temporary and are being driven by categories related to the economic reopening.
In addition, economists say the increased spread of the delta variant, which is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in the US, may weigh on growth in the second half of this year.
Variants have surpassed inflation as the biggest risk to market stability, according to Deutsche Bank AG’s monthly survey of market participants.
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