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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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    Inflation Slowed in April, Marking 10th Month of Moderation

    Price increases cooled, capping months of declines. The details held hints of hope.Inflation slowed for a 10th straight month in April, a closely watched report on Wednesday showed, good news for American families struggling under the burden of higher costs and for policymakers in Washington as they try to wrangle rapid price increases.The Consumer Price Index climbed 4.9 percent in April from a year earlier, less than the 5 percent that economists in a Bloomberg survey had expected. Inflation has come down notably from a peak just above 9 percent last summer, though it has remained far higher than the 2 percent annual gains that were normal before the pandemic.Cheaper prices for airline tickets, new cars and groceries including eggs and produce helped to pull inflation lower last month even as gas prices and rents climbed briskly. In an important shift, prices for some services slowed — a positive for the Federal Reserve, which has been raising interest rates to slow the economy and wrestle inflation lower. Central bankers have been watching services costs carefully in part because they have been proving stubborn.The report also provided welcome news for President Biden. Inflation has plagued voters for more than two years now, weighing on the president’s approval ratings. As prices climb less dramatically with each passing month, they may become a less pressing concern.Yet economists warned against overstating the progress: While inflation is showing positive signs of cooling, a chunk of the decline since last summer has come as supply chains have healed. With that low-hanging fruit gone, it could be a long and bumpy path back to a normal inflation rate.“Inflation is still sticky; I don’t think that the Fed is going to look at this and cut rates, or heave an especially big sigh of relief,” said Priya Misra, head of global rates research at TD Securities. “Not so fast. We can’t draw the conclusion that the inflation problem is over.”Even so, stock prices jumped in response to the data as investors — who tend to prefer lower interest rates — greeted it as good news for the Fed.After stripping out food and fuel to get a sense of the underlying trend in price increases — what economists call a core measure — consumer prices climbed 5.5 percent from a year earlier, a slight deceleration from 5.6 percent in the previous reading.And a closely watched measure of services prices outside of housing costs pulled back even more meaningfully. That was an encouraging sign that a stubborn component of inflation is finally on the verge of cracking, but it was also driven partly by a moderation in travel expenses that might not last, said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives.That slowdown offered “a little bit of good news, but also probably a little bit of a head fake,” she said.While inflation has been gradually cooling for months, it has remained too elevated for policymakers.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 TimesMuch of the slowing in price increases has come as supply chain bottlenecks that emerged during the depths of the pandemic have cleared up, allowing goods shortages to ease. Energy prices have also moderated after a surge in summer 2022 that was tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.But underlying trends that could keep inflation persistently high over time have remained intact, including unusually strong wage growth, which could prod companies to try to charge more.That is one reason Fed officials have been paying such close attention to service prices: They tend to be more responsive to strength in the economy, and they can be difficult to slow down once they pick up.There are reasons to hope for more measured services inflation in coming months. Rents have begun to climb more slowly in market-based trackers, which should begin to show up in the official inflation data.But the question is whether the Fed has slowed the economy enough for other service prices — for things like travel, manicures, child care and health care — to follow suit.Central bankers have raised interest rates over the past year at the fastest pace since the 1980s to slow lending and weigh down growth, lifting borrowing costs above 5 percent as of this month.Those increases have made it more expensive to borrow money to buy a house or expand a business. As growth cools and companies compete less aggressively for workers, wage growth has already begun to slow. That chain reaction is expected to sap demand, which could make it harder for firms to increase prices without scaring away customers.But the full effect of the Fed’s moves is still playing out. The fallout could be intensified by a series of recent high-profile bank failures, which might make other lenders nervous and prompt them to pull back on extending credit.And Congress is approaching a showdown over raising the nation’s debt limit, which could also shape the outlook: If markets panic as Democrats and Republicans struggle to reach a deal and investors worry that the American government will fail to pay its bills, that could trickle out to hurt the economy.Democrats have warned that the brinkmanship could undermine progress in a strong economy with slowing inflation, while Republicans argued on Wednesday that rapid inflation is evidence that they are correct to demand spending cuts.With so many factors poised to weaken the economy, Fed officials are now assessing whether they need to raise borrowing costs further, or whether their moves so far will suffice to guide inflation back to normal. John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that the Fed’s next decision — to lift rates or to pause — would hinge on incoming data.“We’ll adjust policy going forward based on what we see out there,” he said.Policymakers will receive the consumer price report for May on June 13, the day before their decision, but officials typically give markets at least a hint of what they might do with rates ahead of time. Given that, central bankers are likely to pay close attention to the April inflation report.Fed officials will also receive May jobs data and a reading of the personal consumption expenditures price index — the measure they officially target in their 2 percent inflation goal, but one that comes out with more of a delay — before their next meeting. The personal consumption measure builds partly on the data from the consumer price report.For now, the fresh inflation figures probably aren’t enough to convince policymakers that they should change course and reduce interest rates soon, economists said.“It probably keeps them on track to pause at the next meeting,” Ms. Rosner-Warburton said. More

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    The Debt Limit Workarounds: The Coin, the Constitution, Premium Bonds

    As Congress hurtles toward a debt limit showdown, ways to work around it are garnering attention.Move over, trillion-dollar coin, there is a new debt limit workaround in town — and this one sounds more sophisticated, which some of its proponents have suggested could make it more likely to work.For years, debt limit skeptics have argued that the United States can get around the cap on how much it can borrow by minting a large-denomination coin, depositing it in the government’s account at the Federal Reserve. Officials could then use the resulting money to pay the country’s bills. The maneuver would exploit a quirk in U.S. law, which gives the Treasury secretary wide discretion when it comes to minting platinum coins.But there have always been challenges with the idea: Treasury has expressed little appetite. It is unclear whether the Fed would take the coin. It just sounds unconventional to the point of absurdity. And now, some are arguing for a fancier-sounding alternative: premium bonds.The government typically funds itself by issuing debt in the form of financial securities called bonds and bills. They are worth a set amount after a fixed period of time — for example, $1,000 in 10 years — and they pay “coupons” twice a year in between. Typically, those coupon rates are set near market interest rates.But in the premium bond idea, the government would renew old, expiring bonds at higher coupon rates. Doing so would not technically add to the nation’s debt — if the government previously had a 10-year bond worth $1,000 outstanding, it would still have a 10-year bond worth $1,000 outstanding. But investors would pay more to hold a bond that pays $7 a year than one that pays $3.50, so promising a higher interest rate would allow Treasury to raise more money.Would those higher interest rates, which would cost the government more money, pose a problem? Not technically. The debt limit applies to the face value of outstanding federal government debt ($1,000 in our example), not future promises to pay interest.And the idea could also come in a slightly different flavor. The government could issue bonds that pay regular coupons, but which never pay back principal, or perpetual bonds. People would buy them for the long-term cash stream, and they would not add to the principal of debt outstanding.The premium bond idea has gained support from some big names. The economic commentator Matthew Yglesias brought it up in January, the Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine has written about it, and The New York Times columnist and Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman made a case for it this week.But even some proponents of premium bonds acknowledge that it could face legal challenges or damage the United States’ reputation in the eyes of investors. Plus, their design and issuance would have to happen fast.“Normally, Treasury makes changes slowly, with lots of consulting of bond market participants and advance announcement of auctions,” said Joseph E. Gagnon, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, adding that the government might have to offer a discount.But, he added, it “sure beats defaulting” and he “would argue it is better than not paying workers or retirees.”While the premium bond idea might come in different packaging, it has a lot of similarities with the coin idea. Either plan would exploit a loophole to add to government coffers without actually lifting the debt limit. Because both are seen as gimmicky, it could be hard for either to become reality.Of all the options the government could use to unilaterally get around the debt ceiling, “they are the least likely in our opinion,” said Chris Krueger, a policy analyst at TD Cowen.But a workaround that hinges on the 14th Amendment could garner broader support, Mr. Krueger said. That would leverage a clause in the Constitution that says that the validity of public debt should not be questioned.Some legal scholars contend that language overrides the statutory borrowing limit, which currently caps federal debt at $31.4 trillion. The idea is that the government’s responsibility to pay what it owes would trump the debt limit rules — so the debt limit could be ignored.It would not be a perfect solution: The move would draw an immediate court challenge and could sow uncertainty in the bond market, even its proponents acknowledge. Still, some White House officials have looked into the option. 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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    U.S. Employers Added 253,000 Jobs Despite Economic Worries

    Employers added 253,000 jobs in April and unemployment fell to 3.4 percent, but the labor market’s strength complicates the Fed’s inflation fight.The labor market is still defying gravity — for now.Employers added 253,000 jobs in April on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported Friday, in a departure from the cooling trend that had marked the first quarter and was expected to continue.The unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, down from 3.5 percent in March, and matched the level in January, which was the lowest since 1969. Wages also popped slightly, growing 4.4 percent over the past year.The higher-than-forecast job gain complicates the Federal Reserve’s potential shift toward a pause in interest rate increases. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday that the central bank might continue to raise rates if new data showed the economy wasn’t slowing enough to keep prices down.It’s also an indication that the failure of three banks and the resulting pullback on lending, which is expected to hit smaller businesses particularly hard, hasn’t yet hamstrung job creation.“All these things are telling us it’s not a hard stop; it’s creating a headwind, but not a debilitating headwind,” said Carl Riccadonna, the chief U.S. economist at BNP Paribas. “A gradual downturn is happening, but it sure is stubborn and persistent in the trend.” Despite the strong showing in April, the labor market continues to gently descend from blistering highs.Downward revisions to the previous two months’ data meaningfully altered the spring employment picture, subtracting a total of 149,000 jobs. That brings the three-month average to 222,000 jobs, a clear slowdown from the 400,000 added on average in 2022. Most economists expect a more marked downshift later in the year.Jobs increased across industriesChange in jobs in April 2023, by sector More

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    Wages Grow Steadily, Defying Fed’s Hopes as it Fights Inflation

    Wage growth ticked up in April, good news for American workers but bad news for officials at the Federal Reserve, who have been hoping to see a steady moderation in pay gains as they try to wrestle inflation back under control.Average hourly earnings climbed by 4.4 percent in the year through April. That compared with 4.3 percent in the previous month, and was more than the 4.2 percent that economists had expected.The increase in wages compared with the previous month — at 0.5 percent — was the fastest since March 2022.The hourly earnings measure can bounce around from month to month, so it is possible that the April increase is a blip rather than a reversal in the trend toward cooler wage gains. Even so, the data underscored that the Fed faces a bumpy road as it tries to slow the economy and bring inflation under control.Fed officials are closely watching the pace of wage growth as they try to assess how quickly inflation is likely to fade. While officials regularly acknowledge that wage gains did not initially cause rapid price increases, they worry that it will prove difficult to return inflation to normal with pay gains rising so rapidly.Companies may charge more in order to cover their climbing labor costs. And when households are earning more, they are more capable of keeping up with higher expenses without pulling back their spending — enabling businesses to charge more for hotel rooms, child care and restaurant meals without scaring away consumers.The Fed has raised interest rates at the fastest pace since the 1980s starting from March 2022. Officials this week lifted borrowing costs to just about 5 percent and signaled that they might pause their rate moves as soon as their June meeting, depending on incoming economic data.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, noted during his news conference this week that wage growth has remained strong. He suggested the solid job market was one reason the Fed would likely keep rates high to continue slowing the economy “for a while” as it tried to wrestle inflation, which remains above 4 percent, back to the central bank’s 2 percent goal.“Right now, you have a labor market that is still extraordinarily tight,” he said, noting that a more dated wage figure released last week was “a couple percentage points above what would be consistent with 2 percent inflation over time.”That measure, the Employment Cost Index, showed that wages and salaries for private-sector U.S. workers were up 5.1 percent in March from a year earlier. While that is somewhat faster than the gain reported by the overall average hourly earnings figures for April that were released Friday, it is roughly in line with a closely-watched measure within the monthly jobs report that tracks pay gains for rank and file workers.Pay for production and nonsupervisory workers — essentially, people who are not managers — climbed by 5 percent in the year through April, Friday’s report showed. That number has continued to gradually moderate, even as the slowdown in the overall index has stalled.Fed policymakers will have another month of job and wage data in hand before they make their next interest-rate decision on June 14, making Friday’s figures just one of many factors that are likely to inform whether they pause rate increases or press ahead with more policy adjustments. Officials will also have further evidence of how much the recent turmoil in the banking sector is slowing the economy before they next meet.A series of high-profile bank failures have spooked investors and could generate caution at lenders across the country, which could make it harder to access loans for construction projects and mortgages and help to cool growth — but it is unclear so far how large that effect will be.Perhaps most importantly, officials will receive fresh inflation data before their next decision.“They’ll need to see the inflation data and digest this holistically,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide. She said that the strong jobs numbers were just one month of data, but that they were “jarring” to see at a moment when economists had been looking for a slowdown.“Assuming that the inflation numbers continue to trend lower gradually, I think they can go on hold in June,” she said of the Fed. “But it will depend in the inflation readings.” 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