As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to raise short-term interest rates by 25 basis points, upping them just three months after the last action. In doing so, the Federal Reserve noted better economic data and increased pricing pressures. Specifically, the statement cited a strengthening labor market, moderate growth in consumer spending and business investment that has “firmed somewhat.” While inflation is picking up, the FOMC predicts that prices “will stabilize around 2 percent over the medium term.” Nonetheless, it wants to stay ahead of such pressures while inflation is still at acceptable ranges. Hence, the Federal Reserve will continue its process toward normalized rates, and according to the latest economic projections, participants still see three rate hikes—or two more after this one—in 2017. Assuming those increases in the federal funds rate were also 25 basis points, the target range would be at 1.25 percent to 1.50 percent by year’s end (up from 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent after this action).
Of course, future Federal Reserve moves will hinge on incoming data, and more aggressive action might be necessary if the U.S. economy and/or inflation accelerate beyond current expectations. Along those lines, the economic forecasts did not change much from December. Participants see 2.1 percent growth on average in real GDP in 2017, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.5 percent. They also predict core inflation of 1.9 percent. Looking to 2018, FOMC members anticipate thee additional federal funds rate hikes, with real GDP growth of 2.1 percent once again. They forecast core inflation to be 2 percent.
Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, was the only dissenter. He preferred to keep short-term interest rates unchanged, at least for now.