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    Dilemma on Wall Street: Short-Term Gain or Climate Benefit?

    A team of economists recently analyzed 20 years of peer-reviewed research on the social cost of carbon, an estimate of the damage from climate change. They concluded that the average cost, adjusted for improved methods, is substantially higher than even the U.S. government’s most up-to-date figure.That means greenhouse gas emissions, over time, will take a larger toll than regulators are accounting for. As tools for measuring the links between weather patterns and economic output evolve — and the interactions between weather and the economy magnify the costs in unpredictable ways — the damage estimates have only risen.It’s the kind of data that one might expect to set off alarm bells across the financial industry, which closely tracks economic developments that might affect portfolios of stocks and loans. But it was hard to detect even a ripple.In fact, the news from Wall Street lately has mostly been about retreat from climate goals, rather than recommitment. Banks and asset managers are withdrawing from international climate alliances and chafing at their rules. Regional banks are stepping up lending to fossil fuel producers. Sustainable investment funds have sustained crippling outflows, and many have collapsed.So what explains this apparent disconnect? In some cases, it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma: If firms collectively shift to cleaner energy, a cooler climate benefits everyone more in the future. But in the short term, each firm has an individual incentive to cash in on fossil fuels, making the transition much harder to achieve.And when it comes to avoiding climate damage to their own operations, the financial industry is genuinely struggling to comprehend what a warming future will mean.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    New Questions on How a Key Agency Shared Inflation Data

    A government economist had regular contact with “super users” in finance, records show, at a time when such information keenly interests investors.The Bureau of Labor Statistics shared more information about inflation with Wall Street “super users” than previously disclosed, emails from the agency show. The revelation is likely to prompt further scrutiny of the way the government shares economic data at a time when such information keenly interests investors.An economist at the agency set off a firestorm in February when he sent an email to a group of data users explaining how a methodological tweak could have contributed to an unexpected jump in housing costs in the Consumer Price Index the previous month. The email, addressed to “Super Users,” circulated rapidly around Wall Street, where every detail of inflation data can affect the bond market.At the time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the email had been an isolated “mistake” and denied that it maintained a list of users who received special access to information.But emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the agency — or at least the economist who sent the original email, a longtime but relatively low-ranking employee — was in regular communication with data users in the finance industry, apparently including analysts at major hedge funds. And they suggest that there was a list of super users, contrary to the agency’s denials.“Would it be possible to be on the super user email list?” one user asked in mid-February.“Yes I can add you to the list,” the employee replied minutes later.A reporter’s efforts to reach the employee, whose identity the bureau confirmed, were unsuccessful.Emily Liddel, an associate commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said that the agency did not maintain an official list of super users and that the employee appeared to have created the list on his own.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Email ‘Mistake’ on Inflation Data Prompts Questions on What Is Shared

    Traders are closely watching once-obscure economic data, prompting more scrutiny of how widely the government distributes the information.One afternoon in late February, an employee at the Bureau of Labor Statistics sent an email about an obscure detail in the way the government calculates inflation — and set off an unlikely firestorm.Economists on Wall Street had spent two weeks puzzling over an unexpected jump in housing costs in the Consumer Price Index. Several had contacted the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the numbers, to inquire. Now, an economist inside the bureau thought he had solved the mystery.In an email addressed to “Super Users,” the economist explained a technical change in the calculation of the housing figures. Then, departing from the bureaucratic language typically used by statistical agencies, he added, “All of you searching for the source of the divergence have found it.”To the inflation obsessives who received the email — and other forecasters who quickly heard about it — the implication was clear: The pop in housing prices in January might have been not a fluke but rather a result of a shift in methodology that could keep inflation elevated longer than economists and Federal Reserve officials had expected. That could, in turn, make the Fed more cautious about cutting interest rates.“I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, a forecasting firm.Huge swaths of Wall Street trade securities are tied to inflation or rates. But the universe of people receiving the email was tiny — about 50 people, the Bureau of Labor Statistics later said.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Nature Has Value. Could We Literally Invest in It?

    “Natural asset companies” would put a market price on improving ecosystems, rather than on destroying them.Picture this: You own a few hundred acres near a growing town that your family has been farming for generations. Turning a profit has gotten harder, and none of your children want to take it over. You don’t want to sell the land; you love the open space, the flora and fauna it hosts. But offers from developers who would turn it into subdivisions or strip malls seem increasingly tempting.One day, a land broker mentions an idea. How about granting a long-term lease to a company that values your property for the same reasons you do: long walks through tall grass, the calls of migrating birds, the way it keeps the air and water clean.It sounds like a scam. Or charity. In fact, it’s an approach backed by hardheaded investors who think nature has an intrinsic value that can provide them with a return down the road — and in the meantime, they would be happy to hold shares of the new company on their balance sheets.Such a company doesn’t yet exist. But the idea has gained traction among environmentalists, money managers and philanthropists who believe that nature won’t be adequately protected unless it is assigned a value in the market — whether or not that asset generates dividends through a monetizable use.The concept almost hit the big time when the Securities and Exchange Commission was considering a proposal from the New York Stock Exchange to list these “natural asset companies” for public trading. But after a wave of fierce opposition from right-wing groups and Republican politicians, and even conservationists wary of Wall Street, in mid-January the exchange pulled the plug.That doesn’t mean natural asset companies are going away; their proponents are working on prototypes in the private markets to build out the model. And even if this concept doesn’t take off, it’s part of a larger movement motivated by the belief that if natural riches are to be preserved, they must have a price.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    U.S. Economy Grew at 3.3% Rate in Latest Quarter

    The increase in gross domestic product, while slower than in the previous period, showed the resilience of the recovery from the pandemic’s upheaval.The U.S. economy continued to grow at a healthy pace at the end of 2023, capping a year in which unemployment remained low, inflation cooled and a widely predicted recession never materialized.Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That was down from the 4.9 percent rate in the third quarter but easily topped forecasters’ expectations and showed the resilience of the recovery from the pandemic’s economic upheaval.The latest reading is preliminary and may be revised in the months ahead.Forecasters entered 2023 expecting the Federal Reserve’s aggressive campaign of interest-rate increases to push the economy into reverse. Instead, growth accelerated: For the full year, measured from the end of 2022 to the end of 2023, G.D.P. grew 3.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent the year before and faster than the average for the five years preceding the pandemic. (A different measure, based on average output over the full year, showed annual growth of 2.5 percent in 2023.)“Stunning and spectacular,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, said of the latest data. “We’ll take the win.” More

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    Wall Street’s Bond ‘Vigilantes’ Are Back

    The financial world has been debating if market appetite for buying U.S. debt is near a limit. The ramifications for funding government priorities are immense.Typically, the esoteric inner workings of finance and the very public stakes of government spending are viewed as separate spheres.And bond trading is ordinarily a tidy arena driven by mechanical bets about where the economy and interest rates will be months or years from now.But those separations and that sense of order changed this year as a gargantuan, chaotic battle was waged by traders in the nearly $27 trillion Treasury bond market — the place where the U.S. government goes to borrow.In the summer and fall, many investors worried that federal deficits were rising so rapidly that the government would flood the market with Treasury debt that would be met with meager demand. They believed that deficits were a key source of inflation that would erode future returns on any U.S. bonds they bought.So they insisted that if they were to keep buying Treasury bonds, they would need to be compensated with an expensive premium, in the form of a much higher interest rate paid to them.In market parlance, they were acting as bond vigilantes. That vigilante mindset fueled a “buyers’ strike” in which many traders sold off Treasuries or held back from buying more.The basic math of bonds is that, generally, when there are fewer buyers of bonds, the rate, or yield, on that debt rises and the value of the bonds falls. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note — the benchmark interest rate the government pays — went from just above 3 percent in March to 5 percent in October. (In a market this large, that amounted to trillions of dollars in losses for the large crop of investors who bet on lower bond yields earlier this year.)Since then, momentum has shifted to a remarkable degree. Several analysts say some of the frenzy reflected mistimed and mispriced bets regarding recession and future Federal Reserve policy more than fiscal policy concerns. And as inflation retreats and the Fed eventually ratchets down interest rates, they expect bond yields to continue to ease.But even if the sell-off frenzy has abated, the issues that ignited it have not gone away. And that has intensified debates over what the government can afford to do down the road.Federal debt compared with the size of the U.S. economy neared peak levels during the pandemicFederal debt held by the public — the amount of interest-generating U.S. Treasury securities held by bondholders — relative to gross domestic product

    Note: Gross federal debt held by the public is the sum of debt held by all entities outside the federal government (individuals, businesses, banks, insurance companies, state governments, pension and mutual funds, foreign governments and more.) It also includes debt owned by the Federal Reserve.Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisBy The New York TimesUnder current law, growing budget deficits increase the amount of debt the federal government must issue, and higher interest rates mean payments to bondholders will make up more of the federal budget. Interest paid to Treasury bondholders is now the government’s third-largest expenditure, after Medicare and Social Security.Powerful voices in finance and politics in New York, Washington and throughout the world are warning that the interest payments will crowd out other federal spending — in the realm of national security, government agencies, foreign aid, increased support for child care, climate change adaptation and more.“Do I think it really complicates fiscal policy in the coming five years, 10 years? Absolutely,” said the chief investment officer for Franklin Templeton Fixed Income, Sonal Desai, a portfolio manager who has bet that government bond yields will rise because of growing debt payments. “The math doesn’t add up on either side,” she added, “and the reality is neither the right or the left is willing to take sensible steps to try and bring that fiscal deficit down.”Fitch, one of the three major agencies that evaluate bond quality downgraded the credit rating on U.S. debt in August, citing an “erosion of governance” that has “manifested in repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions.”Yet others are more sanguine. They do not think the U.S. government is at risk of default, because its debt payments are made in dollars that the government can create on demand. And they are generally less certain that fiscal deficits played the leading role in feeding inflation compared with the shocks from the pandemic.Joseph Quinlan, head of market strategy for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank, said in an interview that the U.S. federal debt “remains manageable” and that “fears are overdone at this juncture.”Samuel Rines, an economist and the managing director at Corbu, a market research firm, was more blunt — laconically dismissing worries that a bond vigilante response to debt levels could become such a financial strain on consumers and companies that it sinks markets and, in turn, the economy.“If you want to make money, yawn,” he said. “If you want to lose money, panic.”Interest payments for Treasuries have increased rapidlyFederal spending on interest payments to holders of Treasuries

    Note: Data is not adjusted for inflation.Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic AnalysisBy The New York TimesThe debate over public debt is as fierce as ever. And it echoes, in some ways, an earlier time — when the term “bond vigilantes” first emerged.In 1983, a rising Yale-trained economist named Ed Yardeni published a letter titled “Bond Investors Are the Economy’s Bond Vigilantes,” coining the phrase. He declared, to great applause on Wall Street, that “if the fiscal and monetary authorities won’t regulate the economy, the bond investors will” — by viciously selling off U.S. bonds, sending a message to stop spending at its heightened levels.On the fiscal side, Washington reined in spending on major social programs. (A bipartisan deal had actually been reached shortly before Mr. Yardeni’s letter.) On the monetary side, the Federal Reserve began a new series of interest rate increases to keep inflation at bay.The Treasury bond sell-off continued into 1984, but by the mid-1980s, bond yields had come down substantially. Inflation, while mild compared with the 1970s, averaged about 4 percent in the following years, a level not tolerable by contemporary standards. Yet interest payments on government debt peaked in 1991 as a share of the U.S. economy and then declined for several years.That sequence of events may be an imperfect guide to the Treasury bond market of the 2020s.This time around, the Peterson Foundation, a group that pushes for tighter fiscal policy, has joined with policy analysts, former public officials and current congressional leaders to push for a bipartisan fiscal commission aimed at imposing lower federal deficits. Many assert that “tough questions” and “hard choices” are ahead — including a need to slash the future benefits of some federal programs.But some economic experts say that even with a debt pile larger than in the past, federal borrowing rates are relatively tame, comparable with past periods.According to a recent report by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, benchmark bond yields will fall toward 3.4 percent in the coming years, while inflation will average 2.3 percent. Other analyses from major banks and research shops have offered similar forecasts.In that scenario, the “real” cost of federal borrowing, in inflation-adjusted terms — a measure many experts prefer — would probably be close to 1 percent, historically not a cause for concern.Adam Tooze, a professor and economic historian at Columbia University, argues that current interest rates are “not a cause for action of any type at all.”At 2 percent when adjusted for inflation, those rates are “quite a normal level,” he said on a recent podcast. “It is the level that was prevailing before 2008.”In the 1990s, when bond vigilantes helped prod Congress into running a balanced budget, real borrowing rates for the government were hovering higher than they are now, mostly around 3 percent. Government yields were historically low before recent riseThe inflation-adjusted rate for the 10-year Treasury note, a key market measure of “real” government borrowing cost, jumped well above its 2010s levels this year.

    Source: Federal Reserve Bank of ClevelandBy The New York TimesIn the broader context of the interest rate controversy, there is disagreement on whether to even characterize U.S. debt as primarily a burden.Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University, is a leading voice of modern monetary theory, which holds that inflation and the availability of resources (whether materials or labor) are the key limits to government spending, rather than traditional budget constraints.U.S. dollars issued through debt payments “exist in the form of interest-bearing dollars called Treasury securities,” said Dr. Kelton, a former chief economist for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She argues, “If you’re lucky enough to own some of them, congratulations, they’re part of your financial savings and wealth.”That framework has found some sympathetic ears on Wall Street, especially among those who think paying more interest on bonds to savers does not necessarily impede other government spending. While the total foreign holdings of Treasuries are roughly $7 trillion, most federal debt is held by U.S.-based institutions and investors or the government itself, meaning that the fruits of higher interest payments are often going directly into the portfolios of Americans.David Kotok, the chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors since 1973, argued in an interview that with some structural changes to the economy — such as immigration reform to increase growth and the ranks of young people paying into the tax base — a debt load as high as $60 trillion or more in coming decades would “not only not be troubling but would encourage you to use more of the debt because you would say, ‘Gee, we have the room right now to finance mitigation of climate change rather than incur the expenses of disaster.’”Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University and a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, said he thinks “there is a lot of misinformation” about current U.S. debt burdens but made clear he views them “as a big deal and a bad situation.”“The way I look at it, there are four ways out of this,” Mr. Harvey said in an interview. The first two — to substantially raise taxes or slash core social programs — are not “politically feasible,” he said. The third way is to inflate the U.S. currency until the debt obligations are worth less, which he called regressive because of its disproportionate impact on the poor. The most attractive way, he contends, is for the economy to grow near or above the 4 percent annual rate that the nation achieved for many years after World War II.Others think that even without such rapid growth, the Federal Reserve’s ability to coordinate demand for debt, and its attempts to orchestrate market stability, will play the more central role.“The system will not allow a situation where the United States cannot fund itself,” said Brent Johnson, a former banker at Credit Suisse who is now the chief executive of Santiago Capital, an investment firm.That confidence, to an extent, stems from the reality that the Fed and the U.S. Treasury remain linchpins of global financial power and have the mind-bending ability, between them, to both issue government debt and buy it.There are less extravagant tools, too. The Treasury can telegraph and rearrange the amount of debt that will be issued at Treasury bond auctions and determine the time scale of bond contracts based on investor appetite. The Fed can unilaterally change short-term borrowing rates, which in turn often influence long-term bond rates.“I think the fiscal sustainability discourse is generally quite dull and blind to how much the Fed shapes the outcome,” said Skanda Amarnath, a former analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the executive director at Employ America, a group that tracks labor markets and Fed policy.For now, according to the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, a leading group of Wall Street traders, auctions of U.S. debt “continue to be consistently oversubscribed” — a sign of steady structural demand for the dollar, which remains the world’s dominant currency.Adam Parker, the chief executive of Trivariate Research and a former director of quantitative research at Morgan Stanley, argues that concerns regarding an oversupply of Treasuries in the market are conceptually understandable but that they have proved unfounded in one cycle after another. Some think this time is different.“Maybe I’m just dismissive of it because I’ve heard the argument seven times in a row,” he said. More

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    The Stock and Bond Markets Are Getting Ahead of the Fed.

    Stock and bond markets have been rallying in anticipation of Federal Reserve rate cuts. But don’t get swept away just yet, our columnist says.It’s too early to start celebrating. That’s the Federal Reserve’s sober message — though given half a chance, the markets won’t heed it.In a news conference on Wednesday, and in written statements after its latest policymaking meeting, the Fed did what it could to restrain Wall Street’s enthusiasm.“It’s far too early to declare victory and there are certainly risks” still facing the economy, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said. But stocks shot higher anyway, with the S&P 500 on the verge of a new record.The Fed indicated that it was too early to count on a “soft landing” for the economy — a reduction in inflation without a recession — though that is increasingly the Wall Street consensus. An early decline in the federal funds rate, the benchmark short-term rate that the Fed controls directly, isn’t a sure thing, either, though Mr. Powell said the Fed has begun discussing rate cuts, and the markets are, increasingly, counting on them.The markets have been climbing since July — and have been positively buoyant since late October — on the assumption that truly good times are in the offing. That may turn out to be a correct assumption — one that could be helpful to President Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party in the 2024 elections.But if you were looking for certainty about a joyful 2024, the Fed didn’t provide it in this week’s meeting. Instead, it went out of its way to say that it is positioning itself for maximum flexibility. Prudent investors may want to do the same.Reasons for OptimismOn Wednesday, the Fed said it would leave the federal funds rate where it stands now, at about 5.3 percent. That’s roughly 5 full percentage points higher than it was in early in 2022. Inflation, the glaring economic problem at the start of the year, has dropped sharply thanks, in part, to those steep interest rate increases. The Consumer Price Index rose 3.1 percent in the year through November. That was still substantially above the Fed’s target of 2 percent, but way below the inflation peak of 9.1 percent in June 2022. And because inflation has been dropping, a virtuous cycle has developed, from the Fed’s standpoint. With the federal funds rate substantially above the inflation rate, the real interest rate has been rising since July, without the Fed needing to take direct action.But Mr. Powell says rates need to be “sufficiently restrictive” to ensure that inflation doesn’t surge again. And, he cautioned, “We will need to see further evidence to have confidence that inflation is moving toward our goal.”The wonderful thing about the Fed’s interest rate tightening so far is that it has not set off a sharp increase in unemployment. The latest figures show the unemployment rate was a mere 3.7 percent in November. On a historical basis, that’s an extraordinarily low rate, and one that has been associated with a robust economy, not a weak one. Economic growth accelerated in the three months through September (the third quarter), with gross domestic product climbing at a 4.9 percent annual rate. That doesn’t look at all like the recession that had been widely anticipated a year ago.To the contrary, with indicators of robust economic growth like these, it’s no wonder that longer-term interest rates in the bond market have been dropping in anticipation of Fed rate cuts. The federal funds futures market on Wednesday forecast federal funds cuts beginning in March. By the end of 2024, the futures market expected the federal funds rate to fall to below 4 percent.But on Wednesday, the Fed forecast a slower and more modest decline, bringing the rate to about 4.6 percent.Too Soon to RelaxSeveral other indicators are less positive than the markets have been. The pattern of Treasury rates known as the yield curve has been predicting a recession since Nov. 8, 2022. Short-term rates — specifically, for three-month Treasuries — are higher than those of longer duration — particularly, for 10-year Treasuries. In financial jargon, this is an “inverted yield curve,” and it often forecasts a recession.Another well-tested economic indicator has been flashing recession warnings, too. The Leading Economic Indicators, an index formulated by the Conference Board, an independent business think tank, is “signaling recession in the near term,” Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, a senior manager at the Conference Board, said in a statement.The consensus of economists measured in independent surveys by Bloomberg and Blue Chip Economic Indicators no longer forecasts a recession in the next 12 months — reversing the view that prevailed earlier this year. But more than 30 percent of economists in the Bloomberg survey and fully 47 percent of those in the Blue Chip Economic Indicators disagree, and take the view that a recession in the next year will, in fact, happen.While economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product, has been surging, early data show that it is slowing markedly, as the bite of high interest rates gradually does its damage to consumers, small businesses, the housing market and more.Over the last two years, fiscal stimulus from residual pandemic aid and from deficit spending has countered the restrictive efforts of monetary policy. Consumers have been spending resolutely at stores and restaurants, helping to stave off an economic slowdown.Even so, a parallel measurement of economic growth — gross domestic income — has been running at a much lower rate than G.D.P. over the last year. Gross domestic income has sometimes been more reliable over the short term in measuring slowdowns. Ultimately, the two measures will be reconciled, but in which direction won’t be known for months.The MarketsThe stock and bond markets are more than eager for an end to monetary belt-tightening.Already, the U.S. stock market has fought its way upward this year and is nearly back to its peak of January 2022. And after the worst year in modern times for bonds in 2022, market returns for the year are now positive for the investment-grade bond funds — tracking the benchmark Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index — that are part of core investment portfolios.But based on corporate profits and revenues, prices are stretched for U.S. stocks, and bond market yields reflect a consensus view that a soft landing for the economy is a near-certain thing.Those market movements may be fully justified. But they imply a near-perfect, Goldilocks economy: Inflation will keep declining, enabling the Fed to cut interest rates early enough to prevent an economic calamity.But excessive market exuberance itself could upend this outcome. Mr. Powell has spoken frequently of the tightening and loosening of financial conditions in the economy, which are partly determined by the level and direction of the stock and bond markets. Too big a rally, taking place too early, could induce the Fed to delay rate cuts.All of this will have a bearing on the elections of 2024. Prosperity tends to favor incumbents. Recessions tend to favor challengers. It’s too early to make a sure bet.Without certain knowledge, the best most investors can do is to be positioned for all eventualities. That means staying diversified, with broad holdings of stocks and bonds. Hang in, and hope for the best. More

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    Fed Officials Hint That Rate Increases Are Over, and Investors Celebrate

    Stocks and bonds were buoyed after even inflation-focused Federal Reserve officials suggested that rates may stay steady.Federal Reserve officials appear to be dialing back the chances of future interest rate increases, after months in which they have carefully kept the possibility of further policy changes alive for fear that inflation would prove stubborn.Several Fed officials — including two who often push for higher interest rates — hinted on Tuesday that the central bank is making progress on inflation and may be done or close to done raising borrowing costs. Economic growth is cooling, reducing the urgency for additional moves.Christopher Waller, a Fed governor and one of the central bank’s more inflation-focused members, gave a speech on Tuesday titled “Something Appears to Be Giving,” an update on a previous speech that he had titled “Something’s Got to Give.”“I am encouraged by what we have learned in the past few weeks — something appears to be giving, and it’s the pace of the economy,” Mr. Waller said. “I am increasingly confident that policy is currently well positioned to slow the economy and get inflation back to 2 percent.”Michelle Bowman, another Fed governor who also tends to be inflation-focused, said that she saw risks that factors like higher services spending or climbing energy costs could keep inflation elevated. She said that it was still her basic expectation that the Fed would need to raise rates further. Even so, she did not sound dead-set on such a move, noting that policy was not on a “preset course.”“I remain willing to support raising the federal funds rate at a future meeting should the incoming data indicate that progress on inflation has stalled or is insufficient to bring inflation down to 2 percent in a timely way,” Ms. Bowman said.Taken together with other recent remarks from Fed officials, the latest comments offer an increasingly clear signal that central bank policymakers may be finished with their campaign to increase interest rates in a bid to slow demand and cool inflation. Interest rates are already set to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent. The Fed’s next meeting will take place on Dec. 12-13, and investors are overwhelmingly betting that the central bank will hold rates steady, as policymakers did at their last two meetings.Investors appeared buoyed by the Fed officials’ comments. Higher interest rates raise costs for consumers and companies, typically weighing on markets. The two-year Treasury yield, which is sensitive to changes in investors’ interest rate expectations, fell noticeably on Tuesday morning, extending its drop through the afternoon. Yields fall as prices rise. The move initially provided a tailwind to the stock market, helping lift the S&P 500 from its earlier fall to a gain of 0.4 percent, before the rally eased and the index drifted lower to an eventual rise of 0.1 percent.Fed officials have been nervously watching continued strength in the economy: Gross domestic product expanded at a breakneck 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter. The concern has been that continued solid demand will give companies the wherewithal to continue raising prices quickly.But recently, job growth has eased and consumer price inflation has shown meaningful signs of a broad-based slowdown. That is giving policymakers more confidence that their current policy setting is aggressive enough to wrestle price increases fully under control.Still, as both Mr. Waller and Ms. Bowman made clear, Fed officials are not yet ready to definitively declare victory — data could still surprise them. And while a recent run-up in longer-term interest rates had been helping to cool the economy, the move has already begun to reverse as investors predict a gentler Fed policy path.The 10-year Treasury yield, one of the most important interest rates in the world, has fallen drastically in recent weeks after shooting up in previous months, curtailing a sell-off in the stock market and lifting investor optimism. But higher stock prices and cheaper borrowing costs could prevent growth and inflation from slowing as quickly.“The recent loosening of financial conditions is a reminder that many factors can affect these conditions and that policymakers must be careful about relying on such tightening to do our job,” Mr. Waller said on Tuesday. More