Fed signals it will likely hold rates near zero for months

The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it will keep its key short-term interest rate near zero for the foreseeable future as part of its extraordinary efforts to bolster an economy that is sinking into its worst crisis since the 1930s As part of its emergency steps, the Fed said it will also keep buying Treasury and mortgage bonds to help keep rates low and ensure that companies can continue to lend easily to each other amid a near-paralysis of the economy caused by the coronavirus. It did not specify any amounts or timing for its bond purchases. “The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time,” the central bank said in an unusually sweeping declaration at the top of its statement. The viral outbreak and measures to contain it,” the Fed’s policy statement noted, are “inducing sharp declines in economic activity and a surge in job losses.” Under Chairman Jerome Powell, the Fed is confronting a deeply perilous moment for an economy that had looked robust just a few months ago. Since the virus struck with full force last month, widespread business shutdowns have caused roughly 30 million workers to lose jobs. As layoffs mount, retail sales are sinking, along with manufacturing, construction, home sales and consumer confidence. In its statement, the Fed also raised concerns about slowing inflation, which is likely to sink further below its 2% target level in the coming months. “Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation,” the statement said. During two emergency meetings in March, the central bank cut its benchmark rate to a range between zero and 0.25% . It has also announced nine new lending programs to pump cash into financial markets and provide support to large and medium-sized businesses as well as cities and states. The Fed’s statement provided no additional details about its actions. It said it will keep its rate at nearly zero “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.” That’s the same language it used in its previous statement last month. Nor did the Fed provide details about the pace of its purchases of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities. It has tapered those purchases recently as markets have calmed. But earlier this month, it bought as many Treasury securities in a day as it did during an entire month in the 2008-2009 Great Recession. The Fed’s statement came on the same day that the Commerce Department released grim news about the economy: Economic output shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year – the worst showing since the Great Recession struck near the end of 2008. The economic picture is expected to grow ever darker, with the economy forecast to contract at a shocking 30% to 40% annual rate in the April-June quarter. The unemployment rate could reach 20% when April’s jobs report is released next week. The central bank has already slashed its benchmark interest rate to near zero and escalated its purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to pump cash into financial markets to smooth the flow of credit. It has also said it will buy corporate bonds and lend to states and cities – two actions it has never previously taken.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s