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Macroeconomics

Understanding the Fed's Interest Rate and Future Outlook

By
Jessica Cutter
Updated
December 4, 2023
5 minute read
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If you noticed the market’s doing well, it’s because of Wednesday’s decision from the United States Federal Reserve to maintain its interest rates and not hike them. Is that good? For the moment, it feels that way, however, it currently stands at a 22-year high, which could have greater implications for the future.

The Current Interest Rate Landscape

After reaching a range of 5.25% to 5.5%, the Federal Reserve's benchmark federal funds rate remains unchanged. This is the first time in nearly two years that the Fed has held rates steady for consecutive meetings. Good news, right? Although these aggressive rate increases were part of a broader strategy to address the most significant inflation surge in four decades that has sent the economy into a flurry.

Despite the decision to maintain rates, the Federal Reserve has left the door open for the possibility of future rate hikes, with the likelihood of having a hike in December going up by 25%. So why maintain the current rate now? The decision comes after a series of 11 interest rate increases since March 2022 because the strategy is beginning to shift in response to the market.  The central bank's efforts to combat surging inflation and maintain a strong economy post-pandemic are working with strong job reports, strong GDP, and numerous positive earnings reports.

In their statement, the Fed acknowledged that economic activity had expanded at a "strong pace" during the third quarter, a notable upgrade from their previous description of "solid" growth in September. Despite the series of rate hikes, the US economy remains remarkably resilient, with the Fed remaining committed to bringing inflation down to its 2% goal.

Investors’ Reaction

The stock market's response to this news was largely positive; not only were everyday Americans feeling sunny, but investor sentiment flipped. In fact, investors feel so positively that the Federal Reserve might be nearing the end of its rate-hiking campaign that the boost in today’s major stock indices has already been witnessed. The Nasdaq, S&P 500, and Dow Jones Industrial Average posted substantial gains, suggesting that the market interpreted the Fed's decision as a commitment to maintaining interest rates for the short term.

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Traders are now pricing in an 85% chance that there will be no further rate hikes this year, compared to the 59% odds that existed just before the policymakers' meeting. This shift in market sentiment indicates a growing belief that the Fed is reaching the conclusion of its interest rate tightening cycle, especially in light of the robust US economy shown in Q3.

Remaining Concerns

One of the primary drivers behind the Federal Reserve's decision to raise interest rates has been the persistent inflation issue. While the Fed's preferred measure of annual inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, has decreased since its peak, it remained stubbornly high at 3.7% in September, largely due to rising rent and service costs. Economists expect this measure to decrease in the coming months, particularly as rent hikes and wage growth slow, but that isn’t shown in the unrest amongst the working class.

While the decision to keep interest rates steady may provide relief to consumers who have faced multiple rate increases on credit cards, rent, and adjustable-rate mortgages, the Fed has signaled that it remains open to the possibility of future rate hikes. Is the robust US economy a positive sign, indicating resilience despite higher borrowing costs, or a negative one, as it could prolong high inflation rates? As the balance is sought after, there’s still no clear answer as analysts are split over what the future could bring.

Takeaways

Regardless of the unknown future, the Federal Reserve's decision to maintain its benchmark interest rates in the face of a strong US economy and persistent inflation concerns reflects a cautious approach. The Fed is treading carefully to avoid pulling the carpet from under the financial markets or pushing the US into the recession that everyone keeps discussing, and with the next meeting scheduled for December 13-14, further developments are on the way. Now, it’s more essential than ever to stay informed and be prepared for potential changes because even one meeting can shift it all, so stay updated on the economic landscape with alphaAI.

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