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    Fed Officials Were Split Over June Rate Pause, Minutes Show

    In the Federal Reserve’s last meeting, “several” participants thought rates may have moved high enough to get inflation under control.Federal Reserve officials were unanimous in their decision to raise interest rates earlier this month, but were conflicted over whether additional increases would be necessary to bring inflation under control, according to minutes from the Fed’s last meeting released on Wednesday.The Fed voted to raise interest rates by a quarter-point on May 3, to a range of 5 to 5.25 percent, the 10th straight increase since the central bank started its campaign to rein in inflation last year. Although officials left the door open to further rate increases, the minutes make clear that “several” policymakers were leaning toward a pause.“Several participants noted that if the economy evolved along the lines of their current outlooks, then further policy firming after this meeting may not be necessary,” the minutes said.Still, some officials believed “additional policy firming would likely be warranted at future meetings” since progress on bringing inflation back to the central bank’s 2 percent target could continue to be “unacceptably slow.”Policymakers believed that the Fed’s moves over the past year had significantly contributed to tighter financial conditions, and they noted that labor market conditions were starting to ease. But they agreed that the labor market was still too hot, given the strong gains in job growth and an unemployment rate near historically low levels.Officials also agreed that inflation was “unacceptably high.” Although price increases have shown signs of moderating in recent months, declines were slower than officials expected, and officials were concerned that consumer spending could remain strong and keep inflation elevated. Some noted, however, that tighter credit conditions could slow household spending and dampen business investment.Fed officials believed the U.S. banking system was “sound and resilient” after the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank this year led to turbulence in the banking sector. Although they noted that banks might be pulling back on lending, policymakers said it was too soon to tell how big of an impact credit tightening might have on the overall economy.One source of concern for policymakers was brinkmanship over the nation’s debt limit, which caps how much money the United States can borrow. If the cap is not raised by June 1, the Treasury Department could be unable to pay all of its bills in a timely manner, resulting in a default. Many officials said it was “essential that the debt limit be raised in a timely manner” to avoid the risk of severely damaging the economy and rattling financial markets.The central bank’s next move remains uncertain, with policymakers continuing to leave their options open ahead of their June meeting.“Whether we should hike or skip at the June meeting will depend on how the data come in over the next three weeks,” Christopher Waller, a Federal Reserve governor, said in a speech on Wednesday.The president of the Minneapolis Fed, Neel Kashkari, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week that he could support holding rates steady at the June 13-14 meeting to give policymakers more time to assess how the economy is shaping up.“I’m open to the idea that we can move a little bit more slowly from here,” he said.Officials have reiterated that they will continue to monitor incoming data before reaching a decision. On Friday, the Commerce Department will release a fresh reading of the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. Early next month, the federal government will also release new data on job growth in May. More

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    San Francisco Fed Ties to S.V.B. Chief Attracts Scrutiny to Century-Old Setup

    As Greg Becker, the former C.E.O. of Silicon Valley Bank, prepares to testify before Congress, boards that oversee regional Federal Reserve branches are in the spotlight.The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has drawn attention to the relationship between the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which was in charge of overseeing safety and soundness at the lender, and the bank’s former chief executive, Greg Becker, who for years sat on the San Francisco Fed’s board of directors.The bank’s collapse on March 10 has prompted criticism of the Fed, whose bank supervisors were slow to spot and stop problems before Silicon Valley Bank experienced a devastating run that necessitated a sweeping government response.Now, Mr. Becker could face lawmaker questions about his board role — and whether it created too close a link between the bank and its regulators — when he testifies on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee about Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse.In prepared testimony published before the hearing, Mr. Becker said he was “truly sorry” for the bank’s failure. “I do not believe that any bank could survive a bank run of that velocity and magnitude,” he said.Mr. Becker’s position on the San Francisco Fed board would have given him little formal power, according to current and former Fed employees and officials. The Fed’s 12 reserve banks — semiprivate institutions dotted across the country — each has a nine-person board of directors, three of whom come from the banking industry. Those boards have no say in bank supervision, and serve mainly as advisers for the Fed bank’s leadership.But many acknowledged that the setup created the appearance of coziness between S.V.B. and the Fed. Some outside experts and politicians are beginning to question whether the way the Fed has been organized for more than a century makes sense today.“They’re like a glorified advisory committee,” said Kaleb Nygaard, who researches central banks at the University of Pennsylvania. “It causes massive headaches in the best of times, potentially fatal aneurysms in the worst of times.”The Fed boards date back to 1913.In the days after Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, headlines about Mr. Becker’s close ties to his bank’s regulator abounded, with many raising questions about a possible conflict of interest.Though regional Fed presidents and other officials play a limited role in bank oversight — which is mostly in Washington’s domain — some critics wondered if supervisors at the San Francisco Fed failed to effectively police Silicon Valley Bank partly because of the reserve bank’s close ties to the bank’s chief executive.And some asked: Why do banks have representatives on the Fed Board at all?The answer is tied to the Fed’s history.When Congress and the White House created the Fed in 1913, they were skeptical about giving either the government or the private sector unilateral power over the nation’s money supply. So they compromised. They created a public Fed Board in Washington, alongside quasi-private reserve banks around the country.Those reserve banks, which ended up numbering 12 in total, would be set up like private companies with banks as their shareholders. And much like other private companies, they would be overseen by boards — ones that included bank representatives. Each of the Fed reserve banks has nine board members, or directors. Three of them come from banks, while the others come from other financial companies, businesses, and labor and community groups.“The setup is the way that it is because of the way the Fed was set up in 1913,” said William Dudley, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who said that the directors served mainly as a sort of advisory focus group on banking issues and operational issues, like cybersecurity.The boards may give members benefits.Several former Fed officials said that the bank-related board members provided a valuable function, offering real-time insight into the finance industry. And 10 current and former Fed employees interviewed for this article agreed on one point: These boards have relatively little official power in the modern era.While they vote for changes on a formerly important interest rate at the Fed — called the discount rate — that role has become much less critical over time. Board members select Fed presidents, though since the 2010 Dodd Frank law, the bank-tied directors have not been allowed to participate in those votes.But the law didn’t go so far as to cut bank representatives from the boards altogether because of a lobbying push to keep them intact, said Aaron Klein, who was deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department at the time and worked closely on the law’s passage.“The Fed didn’t want that, and neither did the bankers,” Mr. Klein said.From a bank’s perspective, directorships offer prestige: Regional Fed board members rub shoulders with other bank and community leaders and with powerful central bankers.They might also offer either an actual or a perceived information advantage about the economy and about monetary policy. Although the discount rate is not as important today, directors at some regional banks are given economic briefings as they make their decisions.Mr. Becker would have seen Mary C. Daly, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, at meetings held roughly once a month, her calendars suggest.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesRegional board discount votes have often been seen as a sort of weather vane for how a regional bank’s leadership is thinking about policy — suggesting that directors might know how their president is going to vote when it comes to the federal funds rate, the important interest rate that the Fed uses to guide the speed of the economy.That is notable in an era in which Wall Street traders hang on Fed officials’ every word when it comes to interest rates.“It’s a very awkward thing,” said Narayana Kocherlakota, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “There’s no gain to having them vote on discount rates.”Renée Adams, a former New York Fed researcher who studies corporate boards and is now at the University of Oxford, has found that when a bank executive becomes a director, the stock price of their firm rises on the news.“The market believes that they have some advantage,” she said.And Board members do get substantial face time with Fed presidents, who meet regularly with their directors. Mr. Becker would have seen Mary C. Daly, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, at meetings held roughly once a month, her calendars suggest.‘Supervisory leniency’ is a risk.Bank-tied directors have no direct role in supervision, nor can they appoint officials or participate in budget decisions related to bank oversight, according to the Fed.But Mr. Klein is skeptical that Mr. Becker’s position on the San Francisco Fed’s board did not matter at all in the case of Silicon Valley Bank.“Who wants to be the person raising problems about the C.E.O. who is on the board of your own C.E.O.?” he said, explaining that even though the organizational structure might have drawn clear lines, those may not have cleanly applied in the “real world.”Ms. Adams’s research found that banks whose executives sat on boards did in fact see fewer enforcement actions — slaps on the wrist from Fed supervisors — during the director’s tenure. “There may be supervisory leniency,” she said.Changing the system might prove difficult.This is not the first time the Fed regional boards have raised ethical issues. In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, Dick Fuld, the Lehman Brothers chief executive at the time, and Steve Friedman, who was a director at Goldman Sachs, both served on the New York Fed board.Mr. Fuld resigned just before Lehman collapsed in 2008. Mr. Friedman left in 2009, after news broke that he had bought Goldman Sachs stock during the crisis, at a time when the Treasury and the Fed were drawing up plans to bolster big banks.Given that controversy, politicians have at times focused on the Fed boards. The Democratic Party included language in its 2016 platform to bar executives of financial institutions from serving on reserve bank boards. And the issue has recently garnered bipartisan interest. Draft legislation under development by members of the Senate Banking Committee would limit directorships to small banks — those with less than $10 billion in assets, according to a person familiar with the material.The committee has a hearing on Fed accountability planned for May 17. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, and Rick Scott, Republican from Florida, plan to introduce the legislation ahead of that, a spokesperson for Ms. Warren said.“It’s dangerous and unethical for executives from the largest banks to serve on Fed boards where these bankers could secure preferential regulatory treatment or exploit privileged information,” Ms. Warren said in a statement.But — as the Dodd Frank legislation illustrated — stripping banks of their power at the Fed has been a heavy lift.“As a political target,” said Ms. Binder, the political scientist, “it’s a little in the weeds.” More

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    Biden Taps Philip Jefferson and Adriana Kugler for Top Fed Jobs

    President Biden announced his plan to nominate Adriana Kugler, an official at the World Bank, for a Fed governor job, while elevating Philip Jefferson to the role of vice chair.WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday said he would nominate Adriana Kugler for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board and would elevate Philip Jefferson, a current governor, as vice chair of the central bank.If they are confirmed by the Senate, the Fed would get its first Latina board member and its second Black vice chair, a move that could both make the Fed more diverse and build out its leadership team at a challenging economic moment.Mr. Biden chose Ms. Kugler, an economist with a background in labor economics who has Colombian heritage and is the U.S. executive director of the World Bank, to fill the Fed’s only remaining open governor position on its seven-member board. In a corresponding move, he elevated Mr. Jefferson, an economist who was confirmed overwhelmingly to the board when Mr. Biden nominated him to an open governor position, to be the Fed’s vice chair.The New York Times previously reported on the expected nominations.Lael Brainard, who became head of Mr. Biden’s White House National Economic Council earlier this year, was the vice chair of the Fed until February.Because the Fed’s vice chair comes from among its seven governors, Ms. Brainard’s resignation left both a governor seat open and the vice chair role vacant. Ms. Kugler will take the open spot on the board, while Mr. Jefferson, who is already a Fed governor, will be elevated to the leadership position.The Biden administration needed to balance a complicated set of priorities as it filled those open spots at the Fed, the world’s most powerful central bank. The administration is under pressure, especially from Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, to appoint a Latino or Latina to the Fed Board. And the Fed itself is at an unusually challenging juncture: It is trying to wrestle rapid inflation lower with the most aggressive policy campaign since the 1980s, one that could come at a significant cost the job market.Mr. Biden also announced that he would nominate Lisa Cook, a sitting Fed governor whose term will expire early next year, to another full 14-year term as a member of the board.“These nominees understand that this job is not a partisan one, but one that plays a critical role in pursuing maximum employment, maintaining price stability and supervising many of our nation’s financial institutions,” Mr. Biden said in statement announcing the picks.A Latino person has never served on the Fed board in the central bank’s more than 109-year history, so Ms. Kugler’s nomination would be a first if it ended in confirmation. It would also add an official with considerable experience in labor economics: Ms. Kugler, who was formerly an economist and administrator at Georgetown University, served as chief economist of the Labor Department during the Obama administration from 2011 to 2013.She has worked in the economics departments at the University of Houston and at University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, and she has a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.Mr. Menendez praised the decision in a statement on Friday, and made clear that he will support the nominees.“I for one will make it my personal mission to help ensure swift confirmations for Jefferson, Cook and Kugler,” he said.Mr. Jefferson, who took office at the Fed last May, is an economist who most recently served as an administrator at Davidson College and has a doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia. During his tenure at the Fed, he has built a reputation as an inquisitive listener with an interest in staff economic research.Mr. Jefferson was born in Washington D.C., in a neighborhood called Kingman Park. During his confirmation hearing to be a Fed governor, he recalled that in his youth, “it was a place where the line between a future of success or struggle was thin.”If confirmed, he would be the second Black person to reach such an elevated position at the Fed, following Roger W. Ferguson Jr., an economist and business executive. More

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    Financial Stability Experts at the Fed Turn a Wary Eye on Commercial Real Estate

    A financial stability report from the Federal Reserve flagged concerns tied to rising interest rates, including in commercial real estate.Federal Reserve financial stability experts are on the lookout for weaknesses after a year of rising interest rates — and as they survey the potential risks confronting the system, they are increasingly watching office loans and other commercial real estate borrowing.Fed officials have lifted borrowing costs rapidly over the past year — to just above 5 percent from near-zero in early 2022 — to cool rapid inflation by slowing the economy. So far, the fallout from that abrupt change has been most obvious in the banking sector. A series of high-profile banks have collapsed or faced turmoil in recent weeks partly because they were poorly prepared for heftier borrowing costs.But Fed staff members and market experts whom they survey cited commercial real estate as another area worth watching in the central bank’s twice-annual Financial Stability Report, which was released Monday.The jump in interest rates over the past year “increases the risk” that commercial borrowers will not be able to refinance their loans when the loans reach the end of their term, Fed staff wrote in the report, noting that commercial real estate values remain “elevated.”“The magnitude of a correction in property values could be sizable and therefore could lead to credit losses by holders of C.R.E. debt,” the report said — noting that many of those holders are banks, and particularly smaller banks.“The Federal Reserve has increased monitoring of the performance of C.R.E. loans and expanded examination procedures for banks with significant C.R.E. concentration risk,” the report said.The Fed’s comments on commercial real estate amounted to muted watchfulness rather than a full-throated warning — but they come at a time when many investors and economists are closely monitoring the sector. The outlook for office buildings in downtown areas, where workers have not fully returned after a shift to remote work that began during the coronavirus pandemic, has emerged as a particular concern on Wall Street.The report included a survey of 25 professionals at broker-dealers, investment funds, research and advisory organizations, and universities, and those respondents ranked commercial real estate as their fourth-biggest financial stability concern — behind risks from interest rate increases, banking sector stress, and U.S.-China tensions, but ahead of Russia’s war in Ukraine and an impending fight in Congress about raising the debt limit.“Many contacts saw real estate as a possible trigger for systemic risk, particularly in the commercial sector, where respondents highlighted concerns over higher interest rates, valuations and shifts in end-user demand,” the report said.The Fed’s stability report also focused on risks to the economy that might come from the recent banking sector turmoil, which many officials are worried might prompt banks to pull back when it comes to lending. A Fed survey of bank loan officers released on Monday showed that demand for many types of loans has fallen in recent months, and it is becoming gradually harder to borrow.Worries could “lead banks and other financial institutions to further contract the supply of credit to the economy,” the Fed report said. “A sharp contraction in the availability of credit would drive up the cost of funding for businesses and households, potentially resulting in a slowdown in economic activity.”And if banks pull back in a dramatic way, it could have knock-on effects, the Fed report warned.“With a decline in profits of nonfinancial businesses, financial stress and defaults at some firms could increase,” the report said, especially because companies are very indebted — which puts them on dicier footing if business goes badly. More

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    Powell Bets the Fed Can Slow Inflation Despite Recession Fears

    Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, thinks his central bank can defy history to clinch slower inflation and a soft economic landing.The Federal Reserve’s push to slow the economy and bring inflation under control is often compared to an airplane descent, one that could end in a soft landing, a bumpy one or an outright crash.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, is betting on something more akin to the Miracle on the Hudson: a touchdown that is gentle, all things considered, and unlike anything the nation has seen before.The Fed has raised rates sharply over the past year, pushing them just above 5 percent on Wednesday, in a bid to cool the economy to bring inflation under control. Staff economists at the central bank have begun to forecast that America is likely to tip into a recession later this year as the Fed’s substantial policy moves combine with turmoil in the banking sector to snuff out growth.But Mr. Powell made it clear during a news conference on Wednesday that he does not agree.“That’s not my own most likely case,” he said, explaining that he expects modest growth this year. That sunnier forecast has hinged, in part, on trends in the labor market.America’s job market is still very strong — with rapid job growth and unemployment hovering near a 50-year low — but it has shown signs of cooling. Job openings have dropped sharply in recent months, falling to 9.6 million in March from a peak of more than 12 million a year earlier. Historically, such a massive decline in the number of available positions would have come alongside layoffs and rising joblessness, and prominent economists had predicted a painful economic landing for exactly that reason.But so far, unemployment has not budged.Relationship Status: It’s ComplicatedJoblessness usually increases when job openings fall. But that relationship is in question now as job openings drop while unemployment remains low.

    Note: Data is seasonally adjustedSource: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York Times“It wasn’t supposed to be possible for job openings to decline by as much as they have declined without unemployment going up,” Mr. Powell said this week. While America will get the latest update on unemployment when a job market report is released Friday, unemployment has yet to rise meaningfully. Mr. Powell added that “there are no promises in this, but it just seems to me that it is possible that we can continue to have a cooling in the labor market without having the big increases in unemployment that have gone with many prior episodes.”America’s economic fate rests on whether Mr. Powell’s optimism is correct. If the Fed can pull it off — defying history to wrangle rapid inflation by sharply cooling the labor market without causing a big and painful jump in joblessness — the legacy of the post-pandemic economy could be a tumultuous but ultimately positive one. If it can’t, taming price increases could come at a painful cost to America’s employees.The Fed has raised rates sharply over the past year, pushing them just above 5 percent as of their meeting this week, in a bid to cool the economy in order to wrestle inflation under control.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesSome economists are skeptical that the good times can last.“We haven’t seen this trade-off, which is fantastic,” said Aysegul Sahin, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin. But she noted that productivity data appeared glum, which suggests that companies got burned by years of pandemic labor shortages and are now hanging onto workers even when they do not necessarily need them to produce goods and services.“This time was different, but now we are getting back to the state where it is a more normal labor market,” she said. “This is going to start playing out the way it always plays out.”The Fed is in charge of fostering both maximum employment and stable inflation. But those goals can come into conflict, as is the case now.Inflation has been running above the Fed’s 2 percent goal for two full years. While the strong labor market did not initially cause the price spikes, it could help to perpetuate them. Employers are paying higher wages to try to hang onto workers. As they do that, they are raising prices to cover their costs. Workers who are earning a bit more are able to afford rising rents, child care costs and restaurant checks without pulling back.In situations like this, the Fed raises interest rates to cool the economy and job market. Higher borrowing costs slow down the housing market, discourage big consumer purchases like cars and home improvement projects, and deter businesses from expanding. As people spend less, companies cannot keep raising prices without losing customers.But setting policy correctly is an economic tightrope act.Policymakers think that it is paramount to act decisively enough to quickly bring inflation under control — if it is allowed to persist too long, families and businesses could come to expect steadily rising prices. They might then adjust their behavior, asking for bigger raises and normalizing regular price increases. That would make inflation even harder to stamp out.On the other hand, officials do not want to cool the economy too much, causing a painful recession that proves more punishing than was necessary to return inflation to normal.Striking that balance is a dicey proposition. It is not clear exactly how much the economy needs to slow to fully control inflation. And the Fed’s interest rate policy is blunt, imprecise and takes time to work: It is hard to guess how much the increases so far will ultimately weigh on growth.That is why the Fed has slowed its policy changes in recent months — and why it appears poised to pause them altogether. After a string of three-quarter point rate moves last year, the Fed has recently adjusted borrowing costs a quarter point at a time. Officials signaled this week that they could stop raising rates altogether as soon as their mid-June meeting, depending on incoming economic data.Hitting pause would give central bankers a chance to see whether their rate adjustments so far might be sufficient.It would also give them time to assess the fallout from turmoil in the banking industry — upheaval that could make a soft economic landing even more difficult.Three large banks have collapsed and required government intervention since mid-March, and jitters continue to course through midsize lenders, with several regional bank stocks plummeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Banking troubles can quickly translate into economic problems as lenders pull back, leaving businesses less able to grow and families less able to finance their consumption.The labor market could be in for a more dramatic slowdown, given the bank tumult and the Fed’s rate moves so far, said Nick Bunker, the director of North American economic research at the job site Indeed.He said that while job openings have been coming down swiftly, some of that might reflect a shift back to normal conditions after a bout of pandemic-inspired weirdness, not necessarily as a result of Fed policy.For instance, job openings in leisure and hospitality industries had spiked as restaurants and hotels reopened from lockdowns. Those were now disappearing, but that might be more about a return to business as usual.“A soft landing is happening, but how much of that is gravity and how much of it is what the pilot is doing with the plane?” Mr. Bunker said. Going forward, it could be that the normal historical relationship between declining job openings and rising joblessness will kick in as policy begins to bite.Or this time truly could be unique — as Mr. Powell is hoping. But whether the Fed and the American economy get to test his thesis could depend on whether the banking system issues clear up, Mr. Bunker said.“We might not get the answer if the financial sector comes and tips the table over,” he said. More

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    Fed Expected to Raise Interest Rates: What to Know

    Federal Reserve officials will release a rate decision at 2 p.m. The key question is what will come next.Federal Reserve officials are set to release an interest rate decision on Wednesday afternoon, and while investors widely expect policymakers to lift borrowing costs by a quarter-point, they will be watching carefully for any hint at what might come next.This would be the central bank’s 10th consecutive interest rate increase — capping the fastest series of rate increases in four decades. But it could also be the central bank’s last one, for now.Fed officials signaled in their last set of economic projections that they might stop raising interest rates once they reached a range of 5 percent to 5.25 percent, the level they are expected to hit on Wednesday. Officials will not release fresh economic projections after this meeting, which will leave economists carefully parsing both the central bank’s 2 p.m. policy decision statement and a 2:30 p.m. news conference with Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, for hints at what comes next.Central bankers will be balancing conflicting signals. They have already done a lot to slow growth and wrestle rapid inflation under control, recent tumult in the banking industry could curb demand even more, and a looming fight over the debt ceiling poses a fresh source of risk to the economy. All of those are reasons for caution. But the economy has been fairly resilient and inflation is showing staying power, which could make some Fed officials feel that they still have work to do.Here’s what to know going into Fed day.Inflation has prompted the Fed to get aggressiveFed policymakers are raising interest rates for a simple reason: Inflation has been painfully high for two years, and making money more expensive to borrow is the main tool government officials have to get it down.When the Fed raises interest rates, it makes it more expensive and often more difficult for families to take out loans to buy houses or cars or for businesses to raise money for expansions. That slows both consumer spending and hiring. As wage growth sags and unemployment rises, people become more cautious and the economy slows further.If that chain reaction sounds unpleasant, it’s because it can be: When Paul Volcker’s Fed raised interest rates to nearly 20 percent in the early 1980s, it helped to push joblessness above 10 percent.But by cooling demand across the economy, a widespread slowdown can help to wrestle inflation under control. Companies find it harder to charge more without losing customers in a world where families are spending cautiously.And getting inflation under wraps is a big priority for the Fed: Price increases have been unusually rapid since early 2021, and while they have cooled off notably from a peak of about 9 percent last summer, they are increasingly driven by service industries like travel and child care. Such price increases could prove stubborn and difficult to fully stamp out.Higher Prices for Services Are Now Driving InflationBreakdown of the inflation rate, by category

    Note: The services category excludes energy services, and the goods category excludes food and energy goods.Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics; New York Times analysisBy The New York TimesRates haven’t been this high in more than 15 yearsTo get price increases back in line, the Fed has raised rates to nearly 5 percent — and they are expected to cross that threshold on Wednesday. The last time rates eclipsed 5 percent was the summer of 2007, before the global financial crisis.What does it mean to have interest rates this high? More expensive mortgages have translated into a meaningful slowdown in the housing market, for one thing. There are also some signs that the labor market, while still very strong, is beginning to weaken — hiring is gradually slowing, and fewer jobs are going unfilled. But perhaps most visibly, the higher interest rates are starting to cause financial stress.Three big U.S. banks have failed — and required responses from the government — since early March, culminating in a government-enabled shotgun wedding between First Republic and JPMorgan Chase early Monday morning.Many of the banks under stress in recent weeks have suffered because they did not adequately protect themselves against rising interest rates, which have reduced the market value of their older mortgages and securities holdings.Fed officials will need to consider two issues related to the recent turmoil: Will there be further drama as other banks and financial companies struggle with higher rates, and will the bank trouble so far significantly slow the economy?Mr. Powell could give the world a sense of their thinking at his news conference.Economists are on pause patrolBetween the banking upheaval and how much the Fed has lifted interest rates already, investors expect policymakers to pause after this move. But don’t assume that means the slowdown is over.Higher Fed rates are like delayed reaction medicine: They start to kick in quickly, but their full effects take a while to play out. Last year’s moves are still trickling through the economy, and by leaving rates on hold at a high level, officials could continue to weigh down the economy for months to come.And it could be that central bankers will not actually pause: Some have suggested that if inflation remains rapid and growth keeps its momentum, they could raise interest rates more. But it seems possible — even likely — that the bar for future rate moves will be higher.America is on recession watchAs high rates and bank problems bite, many economists think the country could be in for an economic downturn. Economists on the Fed’s staff even said at the central bank’s March meeting that they thought a mild recession was likely later this year in the aftermath of the banking crisis, based on minutes from the Fed’s last meeting.Mr. Powell is sure to get asked about that at this news conference — and he may have to explain how the Fed hopes to keep a slight recession from turning into a big one.A gentle slowdown would probably feel a lot different for people on the ground than a major recession. One would involve slightly fewer job opportunities, milder wage growth and less boisterous business. The other could involve job loss and insecurity, slashed hours and earnings, and a pervading sense of glumness among American consumers.That’s why Wednesday’s Fed meeting matters: It’s not just technical policy tweaks Mr. Powell will be talking about, but decisions that will shape America’s economic future. More

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    Fed Will Decide Next Rate Move After Bank Jitters

    The Federal Reserve will release a policy decision on Wednesday on the heels of another bank collapse.WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials are widely expected to lift borrowing costs by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, the 10th consecutive rate increase since March 2022. But investors and economists think that this could be the central bank’s last move before it pauses.Fed officials face a complicated backdrop going into this week’s meeting: Risks to the financial system loom large, but inflation also remains stubborn.The banking system has been in turmoil since the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. Government officials spent this past weekend racing to find a buyer for First Republic, which had been struggling for weeks and was sold to JPMorgan Chase in a deal announced early Monday morning.Some of the banking sector tumult stems from the Fed’s rapid interest rate increases over the past year. Central bankers are expected to lift rates to just above 5 percent this week, up from near-zero as recently as March 2022. After that quick series of adjustments, many lenders are facing losses on older securities and loans, which pay relatively low interest rates compared with newer securities issued in a higher-rate world.Despite the Fed’s moves — which were meant to rein in quick inflation by slowing the economy — the job market has maintained some momentum and price increases have shown concerning staying power. Companies continue to hire at a solid clip, and data released last week showed that wages continued to climb quickly at the start of the year. While inflation has been slowing, it is increasingly driven by service price increases that have shown little sign of cooling off — which could make it difficult to wrestle price increases the whole way back to the Fed’s slow and steady goal.Policymakers will give the public a sense of how they are thinking about the fraught economic moment on Wednesday in their post-meeting statement at 2 p.m. Because the Fed will not release fresh economic projections at this meeting — those come out just once a quarter — investors will look to a news conference with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, at 2:30 p.m. for clues about what comes next.The Fed could hint at a pauseWhen Fed policymakers released their economic estimates in March, they expected to raise interest rates to a range of 5 to 5.25 percent in 2023.If officials adjust policy as expected this week, they will have lifted rates to that level. The question now is whether they deem that sufficient, or whether policymakers think that the economy and inflation are resilient enough that they will need to adjust borrowing costs more to cool things down and lower inflation fully.Mr. Powell could offer some signal during his news conference, or he could opt to leave the Fed’s options open — which is what some economists expect.“They don’t need to rule anything out,” said Blerina Uruci, chief U.S. economist at T. Rowe Price. “The worst scenario for them would be to signal that they’re done, then have the data force them to do a U-turn.”Investors expect Fed officials to stop after this week, hold rates steady for a few months and then begin to lower them — perhaps substantially, to a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent by the end of the year.Fed policymakers, however, have been adamant that they do not expect to lower rates imminently. And some have hinted that more increases might be warranted if inflation and economic strength show staying power.“Monetary policy needs to be tightened further,” Christopher Waller, a Fed governor and one of the central bank’s more inflation-focused members, said in an April 14 speech. “How much further will depend on incoming data on inflation, the real economy and the extent of tightening credit conditions.”Bank turmoil will influence policyFed officials have been clear that the upheaval in the banking system could slow the economy — but policymakers do not know by how much.Banking trouble is different from other types of business distress, because banks are like the yeast in the sourdough starter of the economy: If they aren’t working, nothing else grows. They lend out money to would-be home buyers, people who want to buy new cars or garage additions, and businesses that want to expand and hire.It is pretty clear that banks are going to pull back their lending at least somewhat in response to the recent turmoil. Anecdotal signs are already surfacing around the country. The question is how acute that shift will be.“If the response to recent banking problems leads to financial tightening, monetary policy has to do less,” Austan Goolsbee, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said in an April 11 speech. “It’s not clear by how much less.”He noted that private-sector estimates suggested that the hit to growth from the banking turmoil could be equivalent to one to three quarter-point rate increases. That estimate came well before First Republic’s demise, but after its troubles started.The economy’s resilience will be criticalOne big question for the Fed — and which will matter for everyone — is whether the U.S. economy will squeak through this episode without plunging into a painful recession.Fed staff members said at the central bank’s March meeting that they expected the economy to experience a “mild recession” in the wake of the recent banking turmoil. And Fed officials — including Mr. Powell — have suggested that a recession is possible as officials try to slow the economy enough to bring inflation under control.But if a recession hits, it is not obvious how painful it will be. Some economists warn that downturns usually build on themselves, as people respond to a little bit of economic weakness by pulling back on spending a lot: It may be hard to push the unemployment rate up just a little bit without pushing it significantly.Others point out that the post-pandemic economy is a weird one, characterized by unusually strong corporate profits and lots of job openings. Because there may be room to squeeze margins and cut unfilled positions, the economy may be able to cool down more gently than in the past — a so-called “soft landing.”Mr. Powell will get a chance to weigh in on which outcome he thinks is most likely on Wednesday. More

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    Late-Night Negotiating Frenzy Left First Republic in JPMorgan’s Control

    The resolution of First Republic Bank came after a frantic night of deal making by government officials and executives at the country’s biggest bank.Lawmakers and regulators have spent years erecting laws and rules meant to limit the power and size of the largest U.S. banks. But those efforts were cast aside in a frantic late-night effort by government officials to contain a banking crisis by seizing and selling First Republic Bank to the country’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase.At about 1 a.m. Monday, hours after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had been expected to announce a buyer for the troubled regional lender, government officials informed JPMorgan executives that they had won the right to take over First Republic and the accounts of its well-heeled customers, most of them in wealthy coastal cities and suburbs.The F.D.I.C.’s decision appears, for now, to have quelled nearly two months of simmering turmoil in the banking sector that followed the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in early March. “This part of the crisis is over,” Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, told analysts on Monday in a conference call to discuss the acquisition.For Mr. Dimon, it was a reprise of his role in the 2008 financial crisis when JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual at the behest of federal regulators.But the resolution of First Republic has also brought to the fore long-running debates about whether some banks have become too big too fail partly because regulators have allowed or even encouraged them to acquire smaller financial institutions, especially during crises.“Regulators view them as adults and business partners,” said Tyler Gellasch, president of Healthy Markets Association, a Washington-based group that advocates greater transparency in the financial system, referring to big banks like JPMorgan. “They are too big to fail and they are afforded the privilege of being so.”He added that JPMorgan was likely to make a lot of money from the acquisition. JPMorgan said on Monday that it expected the deal to raise its profits this year by $500 million.JPMorgan will pay the F.D.I.C. $10.6 billion to acquire First Republic. The government agency expects to cover a loss of about $13 billion on First Republic’s assets.`Normally a bank cannot acquire another bank if doing so would allow it to control more than 10 percent of the nation’s bank deposits — a threshold JPMorgan had already reached before buying First Republic. But the law includes an exception for the acquisition of a failing bank.The F.D.I.C. sounded out banks to see if they would be willing to take First Republic’s uninsured deposits and if their primary regulator would allow them to do so, according to two people familiar with the process. On Friday afternoon, the regulator invited the banks into a virtual data room to look at First Republic’s financials, the two people said. The government agency, which was working with the investment bank Guggenheim Securities, had plenty of time to prepare for the auction. First Republic had been struggling since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, despite receiving a $30 billion lifeline in March from 11 of the country’s largest banks, an effort led by Mr. Dimon of JPMorgan.By the afternoon of April 24, it had became increasingly clear that First Republic couldn’t stand on its own. That day, the bank revealed in its quarterly earnings report that it had lost $102 billion in customer deposits in the last weeks of March, or more than half what it had at the end of December.Ahead of the earnings release, First Republic’s lawyers and other advisers told the bank’s senior executives not to answer any questions on the company’s conference call, according to a person briefed on the matter, because of the bank’s dire situation.The revelations in the report and the executives’ silence spooked investors, who dumped its already beaten-down stock.When the F.D.I.C. began the process to sell First Republic, several bidders including PNC Financial Services, Fifth Third Bancorp, Citizens Financial Group and JPMorgan expressed an interest. Analysts and executives at those banks began going through First Republic’s data to figure out how much they would be willing to bid and submitted bids by early afternoon Sunday.Regulators and Guggenheim then returned to the four bidders, asking them for their best and final offers by 7 p.m. E.T. Each bank, including JPMorgan Chase, improved its offer, two of the people said.Regulators had indicated that they planned to announce a winner by 8 p.m., before markets in Asia opened. PNC executives had spent much of the weekend at the bank’s Pittsburgh headquarters putting together its bid. Executives at Citizens, which is based in Providence, R.I., gathered in offices in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But 8 p.m. rolled by with no word from the F.D.I.C. Several hours of silence followed.For the three smaller banks, the deal would have been transformative, giving them a much bigger presence in wealthy places like the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. PNC, which is the sixth-largest U.S. bank, would have bolstered its position to challenge the nation’s four large commercial lenders — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.Ultimately, JPMorgan not only offered more money than others and agreed to buy the vast majority of the bank, two people familiar with the process said. Regulators also were more inclined to accept the bank’s offer because JPMorgan was likely to have an easier time integrating First Republic’s branches into its business and managing the smaller bank’s loans and mortgages either by holding onto them or selling them, the two people said.As the executives at the smaller banks waited for their phones to ring, the F.D.I.C. and its advisers continued to negotiate with Mr. Dimon and his team, who were seeking assurances that the government would safeguard JPMorgan against losses, according to one of the people.At around 3 a.m., the F.D.I.C. announced that JPMorgan would acquire First Republic.An F.D.I.C. spokesman declined to comment on other bidders. In its statement, the agency said, “The resolution of First Republic Bank involved a highly competitive bidding process and resulted in a transaction consistent with the least-cost requirements of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.” The announcement was widely praised in the financial industry. Robin Vince, the president and chief executive of Bank of New York Mellon, said in an interview that it felt “like a cloud has been lifted.”Some financial analysts cautioned that the celebrations might be overdone.Many banks still have hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized losses on Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities purchased when interest rates were very low. Some of those bond investments are now worth much less because the Federal Reserve has sharply raised rates to bring down inflation.Christopher Whalen of Whalen Global Advisors said the Fed fueled some of the problems at banks like First Republic with an easy money policy that led them to load up on bonds that are now performing poorly. “This problem will not go away until the Fed drops interest rates,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll see more banks fail.”But Mr. Whalen’s view is a minority opinion. The growing consensus is that the failures of Silicon Valley, Signature and now First Republic will not lead to a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis that brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.The assets of the three banks that failed this year are greater than of the 25 banks that failed in 2008 after adjusting for inflation. But 465 banks failed in total from 2008 to 2012.One unresolved issue is how to deal with banks that still have a high percentage of uninsured deposits — money from customers well in excess of the $250,000 federally insured cap on deposits. The F.D.I.C. on Monday recommended that Congress consider expanding its ability to protect deposits.Many investors and depositors are already assuming that the government will step in to protect all deposits at any failing institution by invoking a systemic risk exception — something they did with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. But that’s easy to do when it is just a few banks that run into trouble and more difficult if many banks have problems.Another looming concern is that midsize banks will pull back on lending to preserve capital if they are subject to the kind of bank runs that took place at Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic. Depositors might also move their savings to money market funds, which tend to offer higher returns than savings or checking accounts.Midsize banks also need to brace for more exacting oversight from the Fed and the F.D.I.C., which criticized themselves in reports released last week about the bank failures in March.Regional and community banks are the main source of financing for the commercial real estate industry, which encompasses office buildings, apartment complexes and shopping centers. An unwillingness by banks to lend to developers could stymie plans for new construction.Any pullback in lending could lead to a slowdown in economic growth or a recession.Some experts said that despite those challenges and concerns about big banks getting bigger, regulators have done an admirable job in restoring stability to the financial system.“It was an extremely difficult situation, and given how difficult it was, I think it was well done,” said Sheila Bair, who was chair of the F.D.I.C. during the 2008 financial crisis. “It means that big banks becoming bigger when smaller banks begin to fail is inevitable,” she added.Reporting was contributed by More