Fed officials stress rates outlook could shift in either direction

Federal Reserve officials kept their options open for the next move in interest rates in their latest meeting as they weighed “significant uncertainties” over the US and global economic outlook. Minutes to the latest Fed meeting in March indicated a high degree of uncertainty over the policy prospects, with some officials stressing their outlook could “shift in either direction” as they seek to determine whether a weak bout of growth will persist. After raising interest rates four times last year, the US central bank executed a sharp shift in direction in early 2019, shelving prior plans for further rate rises as it moved to a “patient” stance.

Not helped by President Donald Trump’s willingness to trample over the Fed’s independence with calls for it to cut rates and restart quantitative easing is only adding to the complex outlook policymakers now need to navigate. In the policy meeting on March 19-20 the Fed held rates at between 2.25 and 2.5 per cent and policymakers trimmed their forecasts for growth this year. Many traders have begun betting that the Fed’s next rates move will be down, and the minutes hinted that this possibility is in the minds of at least some policymakers.

Policymakers appeared in the meeting to be broadly sanguine about a recent bout of soggy economic data, with most saying they did not expect the weakness to persist beyond the first three months of the year. But they still expected the growth rate to “step down” from the pace set in 2018, amid factors including a diminishing push from fiscal policy.