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    Why the Fed Is Risking a Recession

    Home sales are flagging and the rest of the economy is expected to slow, maybe sharply, as rates increase. Why is the Federal Reserve doing this?Recession fears are ramping up as the Federal Reserve embarks upon an aggressive campaign to raise interest rates, and politicians and members of the public are increasingly questioning why central bankers are planning to cause the economy pain.The short answer is: This is the tool the Fed has to bring inflation under control.The central bank is trying to force price increases to slow down. It does that by raising interest rates, which makes mortgages, car loans and business borrowing more expensive. As money becomes pricier, it weighs on spending and hiring, weakening the job market and the broader economy — maybe notably. Slower growth will give supply a chance to catch up with demand.The adjustment process is already an unpleasant one: Stock prices have fallen, home sales are beginning to slow and unemployment is likely to rise. But the Fed has one way to beat inflation back in line, and that is by hammering households and companies until they stop spending so much. Central bankers have acknowledged that the transition could be bumpy and that a recession is a real risk.“Monetary policy is famously a blunt tool,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during testimony before senators on Wednesday. “There’s risk that weaker outcomes are certainly possible, but they are not our intent.”At the same time, they say that not trying to cool down inflation — allowing it to continue ratcheting higher, and to become entrenched — would be the bigger problem.“This is very high inflation, and it’s hurting everybody,” Mr. Powell said.Fed officials have argued that they might be able to slow down the economy enough to allow inflation to moderate without choking demand so much that it plunges America into recession. Central bankers forecast last week that they will push unemployment up slightly, but not sharply, this year and next.But that gentle landing is far from certain. As shocks continue to rock the economy — the war in Ukraine has pushed up food and fuel costs, Chinese lockdowns to contain the pandemic have slowed factory production and shipping snarls linger — it has meant that the central bank may have to slow down demand even more to bring it in line with a constrained supply of goods and services.“It’s certainly a possibility; it’s not our intention at all,” Mr. Powell said of a recession. “Certainly the events of the last few months around the world have made it more difficult for us to achieve what we want, which is 2 percent inflation and still a strong labor market.” More

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    The Fed Raises Interest Rates by 0.75 Percentage Points to Tackle Inflation

    The Federal Reserve took its most aggressive step yet to try to tame rapid and persistent inflation, raising interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point on Wednesday and signaling that it is prepared to inflict economic pain to get prices under control.The rate increase was the central bank’s biggest since 1994 and could be followed by a similarly sized move next month, suggested Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, underscoring just how much America’s unexpectedly stubborn price gains are unsettling Fed officials.As central bankers drive their policy rate rapidly higher, it will make buying a home or expanding a business more expensive, restraining spending and slowing the broader economy. Officials expect growth to moderate in the coming months and years and predicted that unemployment will rise about half a percentage point to 4.1 percent by late 2024 as their policy squeezes companies and workers.Mr. Powell acknowledged that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Fed to slow inflation without causing a recession as outside forces, including the war in Ukraine and factory shutdowns in China, threaten to curb the supply of goods and commodities like oil. If the Fed has to quash demand to an extreme degree in an effort to bring it into line with limited supply, it could make for a slump that leaves businesses shuttered and people unemployed.“We’re not trying to induce a recession right now, let’s be clear about that,” Mr. Powell said, explaining that the Fed still wants to reduce inflation to its 2 percent goal while keeping the labor market strong — an outcome economists call a “soft landing.”But “those pathways have become much more challenging due to factors that are outside of our control,” he said, later adding that “the environment has become more difficult, clearly, in the last four or five months.”The latest move set the Fed’s policy rate in a range of 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent, and more rate increases are to come. Mr. Powell signaled that the debate at the Federal Open Market Committee’s next meeting in July will be over whether to raise rates half a point or to repeat an increase of three-quarters of a point, though he added that he did “not expect moves of this size to be common.”Officials expect interest rates to hit 3.4 percent by the end of 2022, according to economic projections they released Wednesday, which would be the highest level since 2008. They also foresee the Fed’s policy rate peaking at 3.8 percent at the end of 2023, up from 2.8 percent when projections were last released in March.As rates rise, policymakers anticipate that growth will slow and joblessness will climb slightly, starting this year.“What Powell and the rest of the F.O.M.C. are saying is that restoring price stability is the primary focus — if they risk a mild recession, or a bumpy soft landing, that would still be successful,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The focus is greatly on inflation right now.”Until late last week, investors and many economists expected the central bank to raise interest rates just half a percentage point at this week’s meeting. The Fed had lifted rates by a quarter point in March and half a point in May, and had signaled that it expected to continue that pace in June and July.But central bankers have received a spate of bad news on inflation in recent days. The Consumer Price Index jumped 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, the fastest increase since late 1981. The pace was brisk even after the stripping out of food and fuel prices.While the Fed’s preferred price gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure — is climbing slightly more slowly, it remains too hot for comfort as well. And consumers are beginning to expect faster inflation in the months and years ahead, based on surveys, which is a worrying development. Economists think that expectations can be self-fulfilling, causing people to ask for wage increases and accept price jumps in ways that perpetuate high inflation.“What we’re looking for is compelling evidence that inflationary pressures are abating, and that inflation is moving back down,” Mr. Powell said at his news conference Wednesday, noting that instead the inflation situation has worsened. “We thought that strong action was warranted.”One Fed official, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Esther George, voted against the rate increase. Though Ms. George has historically worried about high inflation and favored higher interest rates, she would have preferred a half-point move in this instance.Some analysts found the Fed’s economic projections and Mr. Powell’s view that a soft landing may still be possible to be optimistic in light of the more aggressive policy path the central bank has charted. Economists at Wells Fargo announced after the Fed meeting that they expected a downturn to start midway through next year.“The Fed is becoming a bit more realistic about how difficult it is going to be to lower inflation without inflicting damage on the labor market,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. “There is that growing acknowledgment that a soft landing is increasingly difficult — I still think they’re painting a fairly rosy picture.”Stock prices have been plummeting and bond market signals are flashing red as Wall Street traders and economists increasingly expect that the economy may tip into a recession. On Wednesday, the S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent, climbing after the release of the decision and Mr. Powell’s news conference, most likely because investors had already expected the Fed to make a large move.The economy remains strong for now, but the Fed’s actions are beginning to have a real-world impact: Mortgage rates have risen sharply and are helping to cool the housing market; demand for consumer goods is showing signs of beginning to slow as borrowing becomes more expensive; and job growth, while robust, has begun to moderate.While the economic path ahead may be a rocky one, the Fed’s policymakers contend that things would be worse in the long run if they did not act. As prices surge, worker pay is not keeping up. That means that families are falling behind as they try to afford gas, food and rent, even in a very strong labor market.“You really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability,” Mr. Powell said Wednesday, explaining that what officials want is a job market with lots of job opportunities and rising wages. “It’s not going to happen with the levels of inflation we have.”The White House has been emphasizing that the Fed plays the key role in bringing down inflation, even as the Biden administration does what it can to reduce some costs for beleaguered consumers and urges companies to improve gas supply.“The Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” President Biden wrote in a recent opinion column. He added that “past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.” More

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    Fed Set to Lift Rates as ‘Soft-ish Landing’ Becomes a Harder Sell

    The central bank has hoped to cool down the economy without pushing unemployment much higher. Stubborn inflation narrows that path.Federal Reserve officials are meeting this week with one major goal in mind: cooling the economy enough to slow rapid inflation.The odds of pulling that off without plunging the nation into a recession are growing slimmer.As the Fed prepares to take an aggressive stance to tamp down persistent inflation — likely discussing raising interest rates by three-quarters of a point on Wednesday — investors, consumers and economists increasingly expect that the economy could tip into a downturn next year. Even researchers who think the central bank can still pull off a “soft landing,” in which policymakers guide the economy onto a more sustainable path without causing a spike in unemployment and an outright contraction, acknowledge that the path toward that optimistic outcome has become narrower.“It was not obvious that a soft landing was feasible,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, who still thinks it could happen. “The degree of difficulty has probably increased.”The trouble stems from America’s inflation data, which have been growing more worrying. Consumer prices accelerated in May to an 8.6 percent pace, the fastest since 1981. Even after volatile food and fuel costs, which the central bank cannot do much to control, are stripped out, inflation was firmer than expected last month as rents, airfares and hotel room rates surged. Compounding the problem, two recent reports showed, inflation expectations are headed higher.The data suggest the Fed may need to act more decisively, slowing consumer and business spending and the job market even more, to bring prices under control.Before last week’s inflation report, central bankers had been expected to raise interest rates by half a percentage point this week and then again in July. But now the Fed is likely to discuss moving more rapidly to try to stamp out inflation pressures before they become a permanent feature of the economic backdrop. It could also continue to raise rates by more than the usual quarter-point increments into September or even beyond, many economists predict.The Fed has already raised rates twice this year, by a quarter point in March and half a point in May. If it takes more drastic action — making mortgages and business loans even more expensive, choking off corporate expansion plans and crimping the labor market — it would make higher unemployment and a shrinking economy more likely.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Greedflation: Some experts contend that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.For Investors: At last, interest rates for money market funds have started to rise. But inflation means that in real terms, you’re still losing money.For months, the Fed has acknowledged that the path toward slower inflation was likely to be an unpleasant one. When the central bank raises the federal funds rate, it filters out through the economy to slow consumer and business demand, eventually weighing on wages and prices. The way to bring inflation under control is, essentially, to cause a little economic pain.Still, top policymakers have voiced consistent optimism that because America’s labor market was starting from a solid position, it might be possible to cool down inflation without erasing recent job market progress. With so many job openings per unemployed worker, the logic went, it might be possible to restrain conditions just enough to bring the supply of workers into better balance with employer demands.“I think we have a good chance to have a soft or soft-ish landing,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his news conference after the central bank’s May meeting. He added that “the economy is strong and is well positioned to handle tighter monetary policy.”Food and fuel costs are very volatile, but the central bank cannot do much to control them. Alisha Jucevic for The New York TimesBut somebody has to feel the pressure and stop spending for the Fed’s policy to work — and with inflation higher and more stubborn, it will take a bigger squeeze on demand to bring it in line.In fact, Mr. Feroli at J.P. Morgan said, the Fed’s economic projections — which will be released for the first time since March after this meeting — could show a marked slowdown in growth and an increase in the jobless rate to illustrate that policymakers are serious about reining in the economy and controlling prices. Joblessness is now at 3.6 percent, which is below the 4 percent level that Fed officials believe a healthy economy can sustain over the longer run.If the Fed has to slow the economy drastically, it will be a challenge to do that without causing a recession. For one thing, when unemployment spikes, recession tends to follow. Downturns have happened when the unemployment rate rose 0.5 percentage points over its recent low on average over a three-month period — a relationship called the Sahm Rule, after economist Claudia Sahm.For another, interest rates are a blunt tool and work with a lag, and the Fed may simply overdo it.Investors fear a bad outcome. Stocks sank into a bear market on Monday — meaning they have quickly dropped in value by 20 percent — as investors become nervous that the central bank is about to spur a recession in its quest to tame inflation.“People think that the soft-ish landing is a dream,” said Priya Misra, head of global rates strategy at TD Securities. “That’s the big picture.”It’s not just Wall Street that is increasingly glum. Consumer confidence fell to its lowest level on record in preliminary data from the University of Michigan survey, and expectations of higher unemployment in a New York Fed survey have been picking up.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Fed Minutes Show Officials Expecting to Raise Rates Three Times to Address Inflation

    Federal Reserve officials agreed at their last meeting that the central bank needed to move “expeditiously” to bring down the most rapid pace of inflation in 40 years, with most participants expecting as many as three half-a-percentage-point interest rate increases in the months ahead, minutes of the Fed’s May meeting showed.They also discussed the prospect of raising interest rates beyond the so-called neutral rate, at which they are neither supporting nor dampening the economy, to further slow economic growth as policymakers try to combat inflation.The officials noted that inflationary pressures were evident in a broad array of goods and services, causing hardship for Americans by eroding their incomes and making it hard for businesses to plan for the future. They said further supply chain disruptions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and pandemic lockdowns in China were also threatening to push inflation higher.Their discussion highlighted the urgency of the task ahead, with some officials emphasizing “that persistently high inflation heightened the risk that longer-term inflation expectations could become unanchored,” making it more difficult for the central bank to return inflation to the 2 percent annual average that the Fed aims for.Officials also debated whether price pressures might be beginning to abate. Several observed that recent economic data suggested inflation might no longer be worsening, though they said it was too soon to say whether it had peaked. While they said the job market and consumer and business spending remained strong, they also expressed concern about “downside” risks to the economy “and the likelihood of a prolonged rise in energy and commodity prices.”Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what that means for inflation.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.The Fed raised rates half a percentage point in May, its biggest rate increase since 2000. Officials also detailed a plan to shrink the central bank’s $9 trillion in bond holdings and signaled that it would continue making money more expensive to borrow and spend until it got inflation under control. In the May meeting, officials reiterated plans to begin winding down on June 1 a stimulus program that has been in place since early in the pandemic.The Fed’s policy rate is now set in a range of 0.75 to 1 percent.Its decision to raise rates by half a percentage point in May initially buoyed Wall Street, which had been worried about a larger increase of 0.75, as some officials had been suggesting. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, speaking at a news conference after the May meeting, appeared to rule out such a large move, saying it was “not something the committee is actively considering.” Investors took notice of that comment, and stocks rallied.But in the weeks since, Mr. Powell has made clear that economic conditions remain incredibly uncertain and that the Fed may need to go bigger — or smaller — depending on how things evolve.“If things come in better than we expect, then we’re prepared to do less,” Mr. Powell said during an interview with “Marketplace,” a radio program distributed by American Public Media. “If they come in worse than when we expect, then we’re prepared to do more.”Still, as of the May meeting, “most participants judged that 50-basis-point increases in the target range would likely be appropriate at the next couple of meetings,” according to the minutes, which were released on Wednesday.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Powell says the Fed is watching for ‘clear and convincing’ signs of inflation fading.

    Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the central bank is focused on getting rapid inflation under control and that it is ready to intensify its efforts to tamp down price pressures if they do not begin to ease as policymakers expect.“What we need to see is clear and convincing evidence that inflation pressures are abating and inflation is coming down — and if we don’t see that, then we’ll have to consider moving more aggressively,” Mr. Powell said, speaking Tuesday afternoon on livestream hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “If we do see that, then we can consider moving to a slower pace.”Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the prior year, and while inflation eased somewhat on an annual basis, the details of the report suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.The central bank has begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, announcing a quarter-point increase in March and a half-point increase earlier this month, which was the Fed’s largest increase since 2000. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push borrowing costs higher as they attempt to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance.They could raise rates by half-percentage-point increments at each of the Fed’s next two meetings, Mr. Powell suggested after the central bank’s May meeting. He repeated that message on Tuesday.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what that means for inflation.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.“There was very broad support on the committee for having on the table the idea of doing additional rate increases of that magnitude at each of the next two meetings,” Mr. Powell said. “That’s short of a prediction.”While Mr. Powell emphasized the economic outlook is very uncertain, he and his colleagues have suggested that they want to push interest rates up to a neutral setting — a place where they are neither stoking nor slowing growth — “expeditiously.” But Mr. Powell suggested that officials are willing to raise rates beyond that if it is necessary to do so to control inflation.“We won’t hesitate at all to do that,” he said. “We will go until we feel like we’re at a place where we can say, ‘Yes, financial conditions are at an appropriate place, we see inflation coming down.’”The Fed chair said that the central bank can no longer simply hope that supply chain issues improve and help inflation to fade, and that it has to instead be proactive in trying to restrain prices by cooling down the economy.“We clearly have a job to do on demand — there is an imbalance in the economy broadly between demand and supply,” Mr. Powell said. He pointed in particular to the labor market, where workers are in short supply and wages are rising swiftly as employers compete to hire them.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Jerome Powell Confirmed for a Second Term as Fed Chair

    Jerome Powell, whom the Senate confirmed to a second term on Thursday, said allowing rapid inflation to persist would be more painful.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said in an interview on Thursday that lowering inflation is likely to be painful but that allowing price gains to persist would be the bigger problem — squaring off with the major challenge facing his central bank as he officially starts his second term at its helm.Mr. Powell, whom Senators confirmed to a second four-year term at the head of the central bank in an 80-19 vote on Thursday, holds one of most consequential jobs in the United States and the world economy at a moment of rapid inflation and deep uncertainty.Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the previous year, according to data reported on Wednesday. And while inflation eased slightly on an annual basis, it remained near the fastest pace in 40 years, and the details of the release suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.The Fed has already begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, making its largest increase since 2000 when it lifted borrowing costs by half a percentage point this month. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push rates higher as they try to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance and drive inflation lower.Mr. Powell suggested Thursday in an interview with Marketplace that an even bigger 0.75 percentage point interest rate increase, though not under consideration at the moment, could be appropriate if economic data come in worse than officials expect.“The process of getting inflation down to 2 percent will also include some pain, but ultimately the most painful thing would be if we were to fail to deal with it and inflation were to get entrenched in the economy at high levels,” Mr. Powell also said. “That’s just people losing the value of their paycheck to high inflation and, ultimately, we’d have to go through a much deeper downturn.”Mr. Powell, who was chosen as a Fed governor by former President Barack Obama and then elevated to chair by former President Donald J. Trump, was renominated by President Biden late last year.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Though he has been popular among lawmakers for much of his tenure, several Republicans and Democrats voted against the nomination. Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey, cited the central bank’s failure to promote Latino leaders. Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, cited high inflation in opposing Mr. Powell, posting on Twitter that “we should not reward failure.”Inflation is likely to be the defining challenge of Mr. Powell’s second term. As Mr. Shelby’s comments suggest, the Fed has been criticized for responding too slowly to rapid price gains last year. Mr. Powell has emphasized that policymakers did the best they could with the data in hand.“If you had perfect hindsight, you’d go back and it probably would have been better for us to have raised rates a little sooner,” Mr. Powell said in his interview with Marketplace. “I’m not sure how much difference it would have made, but we have to make decisions in real time, based on what we know then, and we did the best we could.”With Mr. Powell’s confirmation, Mr. Biden has now appointed four of the Fed’s seven governors in Washington, putting his imprimatur on the central bank at a crucial moment.The Senate last month confirmed Lael Brainard, formerly a Fed governor, as Mr. Biden’s choice for the Fed’s vice chair, an influential position within the central bank.This week, the Senate confirmed two other new Fed governors — Lisa D. Cook and Philip N. Jefferson. Mr. Biden has also nominated Michael S. Barr as the new vice chair for supervision, and his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled for next week.Ms. Brainard and Mr. Powell have long been aligned on policy, and the Fed’s newest governors — Ms. Cook and Mr. Jefferson — indicated during their confirmation hearings that they, too, are focused on fighting inflation. Fed officials view stable prices as a crucial building block for sustainable economic growth.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More