The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, defying a push from President Trump for lower rates intended to stimulate the economy.
The U.S. economy is “solid,” the central bank said in a statement, suggesting it was in no rush to move interest rates, which are just under 2.5 percent.
Fed leaders have repeatedly said they will be “patient” on any rate hikes, and they are not forecasting increases or decreases this year.
“It appears that risks have moderated somewhat,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said Wednesday, pointing to improving global growth and financial market conditions and optimism about trade tensions easing. “Our outlook and my outlook is a positive one. . . for growth for the rest of this year.”
Trump tweeted Tuesday that the economy would “go up like a rocket if we did some lowering of rates, like one point, and some quantitative easing.”
Powell said Wednesday that he was confident in the central bank’s approach. “We do think our policy stance is appropriate right now. We don’t see a strong case for moving in either direction,” he said.
The actions Trump wants from the Fed are typically used only in periods of severe economic and financial stress, of which there is little evidence now.
Quantitative easing, or QE, was a bond buying program the Fed utilized in the aftermath of the financial crisis to pump money into the financial system and keep interest rates low. The Fed announced it would cease QE in 2014.
The Fed’s main concern at the moment is that inflation, a measure of how much the cost of living is rising, might be too low. The central bank’s statement included strongly worded language about “muted” inflation running below the Fed’s 2 percent target.
“Overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy have declined and are running below 2 percent,” the Fed wrote.
The central bank’s preferred inflation measure is sitting at 1.6 percent. Most Americans don’t mind that prices on many goods aren’t rising much, leaving the Fed to mull whether it needs to adjust its target or take action to spur inflation. For now, Powell said, he wants to wait and see what inflation looks like in the coming months.
“We do expect that this [low inflation] reading will be transient and inflation will move back up,” Powell said. We “would be concerned if inflation were running consistently above or below 2 percent.”
The Fed’s mostly upbeat assessment of the economy comes as Trump’s plans to install allies on the central bank’s board appear to be unraveling. He planned to nominate businessman Herman Cain and economic commentator Stephen Moore to the final two openings on the Fed’s Board of Governors, but Republican senators stonewalled Cain, forcing him to withdraw from consideration. Moore’s candidacy is also in doubt after at least seven Republican senators expressed serious concerns about him.
Trump was irate after the central bank raised interest rates several times last year, which he views as a threat to his reelection chances. The bank undertook the moves to keep the economy from overheating after Trump’s tax cuts, as well as because Powell said the economy no longer needed the stimulus of low rates. The current rate is viewed as a “neutral” level that neither boosts the economy nor pulls it back.
But the Fed is no longer predicting any rate hikes this year, and markets have soared since Powell previewed the change of course in early January. Economic indicators also were better than expected, with growth in the first quarter coming in at a 3.2 percent annualized rate and unemployment remaining low.
“The Fed did a good job of noticing some of the early signs of weakness and lack of momentum and taking a preemptive step to pull back from quantitative tightening,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income. “The Fed didn’t say, ‘We’re pulling back because the economy is falling off a cliff.’ This time, the Fed said, ‘The economy is starting to lose momentum, so let’s back off.’ ”
The next meeting is scheduled for June 18-19. The stock market ended the day in the red, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 163 points, but the major indexes remained near all-time highs.