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    Smaller Rate Increase by Federal Reserve Likely as Inflation Cools

    America’s central bank is expected to raise rates by a quarter point on Wednesday. The question now is what comes next.Federal Reserve officials are widely expected to raise interest rates by a quarter point at their meeting this week, further slowing what had been an aggressive pace of rate increases in 2022 as they wait to see how swiftly inflation will fade.Moving gradually will give Fed officials more time to assess how high rates need to rise and how long they need to stay elevated to fully wrangle inflation, both of which are looming and crucial questions. The answers will help to determine how much damage the Fed inflicts on the labor market and broader economy in its quest to control price increases.Central bankers raised interest rates from near zero to above 4.25 percent last year, and they are expected to lift rates to a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent on Wednesday. Investors will be even more attuned to what may come next, and will parse the Fed’s 2 p.m. statement and the subsequent news conference by the Fed chair Jerome H. Powell for clues about the future.Fed officials predicted in December that they would lift rates to just above 5 percent in 2023, then hold them at a high level throughout the year. But incoming data will drive how high the Fed raises rates and how long they keep them at that level.Since the Fed’s last decision, inflation has meaningfully slowed, and data on the economy show that consumers are becoming more cautious and beginning to spend less. Anecdotes suggest that shoppers may be more sensitive to prices, which would make it more difficult for companies to continue passing along big price increases. At the same time, the job market remains very strong, and economists and central bankers have warned that a re-acceleration in growth and inflation remains possible. That is likely to keep the Fed wary of prematurely declaring victory over inflation.“They’re going to stay vigilant on inflation — I don’t think they’re going to break out the ‘mission accomplished’ banner just yet,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, a rates strategist at T.D. Securities. “If they don’t send the signal that they really want to get inflation under control, the market could over-interpret that as a signal that they’re done. That’s not the message they want to send.”Wall Street will be focused on one word in particular in the Fed’s policy statement: “ongoing.” In recent months, central bankers have stated that “ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Consumer Spending Fell Again in December

    Fresh data offered more detail on how shoppers retrenched at the end of 2022.For more than a year now, the U.S. economy has faced two fundamental, interwoven challenges: Consumers wouldn’t stop spending, and prices wouldn’t stop rising.Both trends are now showing early signs of reversing.Consumer spending fell in both November and December, the Commerce Department said on Friday, as shoppers pulled back amid rising prices, dwindling savings and warnings of a looming recession.Inflation is also easing: Consumer prices rose 5 percent in the year through December, according to the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure. While still much more rapid than normal, that was the slowest pace in more than a year.Taken together, the figures paint a picture of an economy that is, at long last, coming off the boil. From the Fed’s perspective, that is good news: The central bank has spent the past year aggressively raising interest rates in an effort to force consumers and businesses alike to pull back their spending, which should result in slower price increases. Now there is mounting evidence those efforts are bearing fruit.“The medicine is taking,” said Sarah Watt House, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “The economy is on the right path.”That path is an uncertain and narrow one, however. So far, the Fed has managed to cool down the economy without short-circuiting the recovery and causing a big increase in unemployment. But the full effects of its actions have yet to be felt.Policymakers are expected to raise rates by another quarter point at their meeting next week, a move that would put rates in a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent. Even once they stop raising rates, the central bank has indicated it expects to keep borrowing costs high for a significant period.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    A Closely Watched Measure of Inflation Slowed in December

    The Personal Consumption Expenditures price index climbed 5 percent from a year earlier, slower than the reading last month.The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation index climbed 5 percent in the year through December, a notable slowdown from November and a continuation of a six-month downward trend.After stripping out food and fuel, the price index climbed 4.4 percent compared with a year earlier, in line with what economists in a Bloomberg survey had expected and a slowdown from 4.7 percent in November.The overall picture is one of moderating inflation — providing some long-awaited relief for consumers — but which remains unusually rapid at more than twice the 2 percent rate the Fed aims for on average over time.Central bankers are raising interest rates to make it more expensive to borrow money to make a major investment or finance a business expansion, hoping to cool demand enough that it drives price increases lower. Policymakers lifted their main policy rate from near-zero to more than 4.25 percent last year, and they are widely expected to raise it another quarter point in their decision on Feb. 1.The Fed is deciding when to stop its rate increases and how long to leave them high — decisions that it has said will be influenced by incoming data on inflation and the broader economy. That focuses attention on figures like the one released on Friday.“It will take time for supply and demand to come back into proper alignment and balance, so we must keep moving,” John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said last week.The Fed is also keeping an eye on measures of economic activity, including consumer spending and the labor market. While layoffs at big technology companies have been grabbing headlines in recent weeks, jobless claims remain very low and the unemployment rate is at the lowest level in half a century.That is expected to change this year. As the Fed’s interest rate increases kick in fully, economists at the central bank and on Wall Street expect the U.S. economy to slow and for unemployment to tick higher. Officials are hoping that they can pull off the slowdown without tipping the economy into an outright recession, but there is no guarantee. More

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    U.S. Economy Grew at 2.9% Annual Rate in Fourth Quarter

    The continued growth in the fourth quarter showed the resilience of consumers and businesses in the face of rising inflation and interest rates.The economy remained resilient last year in the face of inflation, war and a Federal Reserve intent on curbing the pace of growth.A repeat performance in 2023 is far from guaranteed.U.S. gross domestic product, when adjusted for inflation, increased at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That was down from 3.2 percent in the third quarter, but nonetheless a solid end to a topsy-turvy year in which the economy contracted in the first six months, prompting talk of a recession, only to rebound in the second half.Beneath the quarterly ups and downs is a simpler story, economists said: The recovery from the pandemic recession has slowed from the frenetic pace of 2021, but it has retained momentum thanks to a red-hot job market and trillions of dollars in pent-up savings that allowed Americans to weather rapidly rising prices. Over the year as a whole, as measured from the fourth quarter a year earlier, G.D.P. grew 1 percent, down sharply from 5.7 percent growth in 2021.“2020 was the pandemic; 2021 was the bounce-back from the pandemic; 2022 was a transition year,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo.The question is, a transition to what? Mr. Bryson, like many economists, expects a recession to begin sometime this year, as the effects of higher interest rates ripple through the economy.The initial rebound from the pandemic recession was much stronger in the United States than it was in much of the rest of the world. The gap widened last year as the war in Ukraine threatened to push Europe into a recession and the strict Covid suppression policies in China constrained growth there.But the U.S. economy faces fresh challenges in 2023. Inflation remains too high by many measures, and the Fed is expected to continue increasing rates in an effort to bring prices under control. A congressional showdown over raising the debt ceiling could cause further turmoil in financial markets — or a crisis if lawmakers fail to reach a deal.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Inflation Is Cooling, Leaving America Asking: What Comes Next?

    After six months of declines, inflation seems to be turning a corner. But the road back to normal is an uncertain one.Martin Bate, a 31-year-old transportation planner in Fort Worth, spent the middle of 2022 feeling that he was “treading water” as high gas prices, climbing food costs and the prospect of a big rent increase chipped away at his finances.“I was really starting to feel financially squeezed in a way that I hadn’t felt ever before, since finishing college,” Mr. Bate said. Since then, he has received a promotion and a raise that amounted to 12 percent. Gas prices have fallen, and local housing costs have moderated enough that next month he is moving into a nicer apartment that costs less per square foot than his current place.“My personal situation has improved a good amount,” Mr. Bate said, explaining that he’s feeling cautious but hopeful about the economy. “It’s looking like it might shape out all right.”People across the country are finally experiencing some relief from what had been a relentless rise in living costs. After repeated false dawns in 2021 and early 2022 — when price increases slowed only to accelerate again — signs that inflation is genuinely turning a corner have begun to accumulate.Inflation has slowed on an annual basis for six straight months, dipping to 6.5 percent after peaking at about 9 percent last summer, partly as gas has become cheaper. But the deceleration is true even after volatile food and fuel are stripped out: So-called core consumer prices have climbed 0.3 percent or less for each of the past three months. That’s faster than the 0.2 percent month-to-month changes that were typical before the pandemic but much slower than the 0.9 percent peak in April 2021. More

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    Fed Rate Increases Have ‘A Ways to Go,’ Top Official Says

    Christopher Waller, a Federal Reserve governor, said he favored a quarter-point move. Many of his colleagues agree — or haven’t ruled it out.Christopher Waller, a Federal Reserve governor, added his voice on Friday to a chorus of central bank officials who favor slowing rate increases at the central bank’s Feb. 1 meeting. That most likely locks in place market expectations for a return to smaller policy adjustments after a series of jumbo rate moves.Mr. Waller spoke on the eve of the central bank’s quiet period before its meeting, which means investors will not hear any more commentary from Fed officials before they make their rate decision. His comments were in line with what many of his colleagues have said: Several openly support slowing down rate increases at the meeting, and top policymakers who haven’t made up their minds have not ruled it out.Central bankers raised rates rapidly in 2022, lifting borrowing costs in three-quarter-point increments for much of the year, before slowing to a half-point move in December. But they are entering a new phase that is focused more on how high interest rates rise and less on how quickly they get there. The thinking is that rates are now high enough to meaningfully slow the economy, and that adjusting them more gradually will give policymakers time to see how their policy is working.That has nudged policymakers toward a quarter-point increase, also known as 25 basis points, an increment that was common before the pandemic.“After climbing steeply and using monetary policy to significantly raise interest rates throughout the economy, it was apparent to me that it was time to slow, but not halt, the rate of ascent,” Mr. Waller said of the December downshift. “There appears to be little turbulence ahead, so I currently favor a 25-basis-point increase” at the Fed’s next meeting, he said.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    As Fed Nears Next Rate Decision, Its Vice Chair Cites Reasons for Hope

    Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, emphasized that non-wage causes had driven inflation in a sweeping speech.The Federal Reserve’s second-in-command offered a hopeful analysis of America’s inflation situation on Thursday, emphasizing that many of the factors that have driven prices higher over recent years may be poised to fade.“It remains possible that a continued moderation in aggregate demand could facilitate continued easing in the labor market and reduction in inflation without a significant loss of employment,” Lael Brainard, the Fed’s vice chair, said in a speech at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.Ms. Brainard spoke just days before Fed officials are set to begin the quiet period ahead of their Feb. 1 interest rate decision.In some ways, she broke with what her colleagues have been saying about the forces that could keep inflation high. Many central bankers have emphasized the roles that a tight labor market and strong wage growth are likely to play in propping up price increases, but Ms. Brainard focused on other factors that have sped up price increases, particularly when it comes to services.“There are a range of views on what it will take to bring down this component of inflation to prepandemic levels,” Ms. Brainard acknowledged in the remarks. She noted that wages are an important cost for services firms, so “one possible channel is through a weakening in labor demand.”But she added that “to the extent that inputs other than wages may have been responsible in part for important price increases,” a reversal in those factors could help to lower services inflation.In particular, Ms. Brainard noted that supply chain issues and jumps in fuel prices might be passing through to elevate some service costs, and that those could fade away, assuming supply chains continue to heal and gas stays relatively cheap.And Ms. Brainard also cited the reversal of swollen profit margins as something that could help inflation to moderate.Companies have enjoyed an unusual burst of pricing power in the pandemic era as repeated supply chain issues and resilient consumer demand have given them both a reason to try to raise prices and the wherewithal to do so without scaring away shoppers. Many firms have lifted what they are charging more than they needed to cover climbing costs, swelling their profits.“The labor share of income has declined over the past two years and appears to be at or below prepandemic levels, while corporate profits as a share of G.D.P. remain near postwar highs,” Ms. Brainard said.But that might be changing as demand wanes and price sensitivity returns.“The compression of these markups as supply constraints ease, inventories rise and demand cools could contribute to disinflationary pressures,” she said.The Fed is expected to raise interest rates again at its upcoming meeting as it tries to ensure that rapid inflation comes back under control. Officials slowed from a string of three-quarter-point moves in 2022 to a half-point move in December, and several have signaled that they would favor slowing to a quarter-point move at the February gathering.While Ms. Brainard did not speculate on what size rate move would be warranted in her prepared remarks, she did emphasize that borrowing costs will need to remain high to make sure that inflation moderates fully.“Policy will need to be sufficiently restrictive for some time to make sure inflation returns to 2 percent on a sustained basis,” she said. More

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    After a Burst of New Businesses, a Cooling Economy Intrudes

    The pandemic has brought a boom in entrepreneurship, but higher interest rates, a chill in venture capital and fears of recession now pose obstacles.An unexpected result of the pandemic era has been a surge in entrepreneurial activity. Since 2020, applications to start new businesses have skyrocketed, reversing a decades-long slump.The reasons for the boom are manifold. Millions of people were suddenly laid off, giving them the time, and inclination, to start new businesses. Personal savings jumped, buoyed partly by a frothy stock market and government stimulus payments, providing would-be entrepreneurs with the means to fulfill their visions. Rock-bottom interest rates made money cheap and widely available.But the ebullient economic environment that helped foster this entrepreneurial spirit has given way to high inflation, rising interest rates and dwindling savings. That has left these nascent businesses to navigate challenging financial crosscurrents — and a possible recession — at a moment when they are at their most fragile. Even under normal conditions, roughly half of new businesses fail within five years.“Young businesses are inherently vulnerable,” said John Haltiwanger, an economist at the University of Maryland who studies entrepreneurship. “They’re likely to fail, and they are especially likely to fail in a recession.”In 2021, Americans filed applications to start 5.4 million new businesses, according to data from the Census Bureau. That was on top of the 4.4 million applications filed in 2020, which had been the highest by far in the more than 15 years the government had been keeping track. (Filings last year through November were running ahead of 2020 but behind 2021; figures for December will be released this week.)Data on actual business formation will not become available for several years, so it is not possible yet to measure the effects of the cooling economy on new ventures. Whether these new businesses pull through could have broad implications for the health and dynamism of the overall economy.“Innovation drives gains in productivity,” said John Dearie, president of the Center for American Entrepreneurship, an advocacy organization. “And innovation comes disproportionately from new businesses.”Jennifer Sutton started a juice and wellness bar in Park City, Utah. She is worried about the prospect of a recession and how it would affect the tourism that supports her business.Kim Raff for The New York TimesBut he cautioned that the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy — intended to tamp down the fastest price increases in decades — is “ramping up the headwinds facing entrepreneurs to gale force by crushing demand and by increasing the price of money.”In interviews, entrepreneurs expressed a mix of resolve and resignation about the months ahead. Some said they had learned lessons from the pandemic’s upheaval about how to endure financial adversity that they believed had recession-proofed their business models. Others were cleareyed about needing outside funding that they feared would no longer arrive.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More