Fed Cited Sluggish Growth for Patience on Rates

Fed minutes reaffirm patient approach to interest rates in 2019

Fed officials expect to keep interest rates unchanged this year — unless economy shifts

The Fed has not cut the benchmark lending rate in more than a decade, when it slashed rates to zero during the global financial crisis, but increased it four times past year, the final time in December, before abruptly and clearly calling a pause to any more hikes.

However, "some participants indicated that if the economy evolved as they now expected, with economic growth above its longer run trend rate, they would likely judge it appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate modestly later this year", said the minutes.

Officials most recently voted to increase the benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point, bringing it to a target range between 2.25% and 2.5% at the end of 2018.

The minutes fleshed out the bank's decision at the March meeting to remove a projection of any rate hikes this year.

"FOMC minutes this morning reiterated the Fed's earlier messaging, with a number of officials noting rates could go up or down".

"Despite growing market expectations that the Fed's next move will be to cut interest rates, there was little evidence that a majority of officials was considering rate cuts any time soon", said Andrew Hunter, senior US economist at Capital Economics.

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President Donald Trump said last week that he wanted the Fed to start cutting rates.

The Fed in 2018 hiked its policy rate four times, leaving it in December at a level of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. Trump harshly criticized those rate hikes, blaming them for a plunge in the stock market late past year. Trump has been a harsh critic of the interest rate policy set forward by the Fed and has attempted to influence the monetary policy.

In addition to that, the president has said that he will appoint Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate, and Stephen Moore, a conservative economic analyst and frequent Fed critic, to the central bank's seven-member board.

The U.S. central bank pivoted abruptly at that meeting to a much-less aggressive posture, and the minutes released on Wednesday showed policymakers agreed to be "patient" about making any moves on rates.

Fed officials said that consumer sentiment has improved since then, and officials expect consumer spending to rebound in coming months.

At the conclusion of its March meeting , the Federal Open Market Committee signaled no additional hikes this year and penciled in just one for 2020.

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