inflation resists, the Fed will counterattack with another rate hike

Sharp rise in rates in sight against inflation, and updating of economic forecasts: the American central bank (Fed) had a busy program for its meeting, which began Tuesday noon and will end Wednesday at midday.

Will rates be raised by three-quarters of a percentage point as expected, or even one point? Does the Fed anticipate a recession in 2023 for the American economy? What about unemployment?

A press release will be issued at 2:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. GMT), then the president of the institution, Jerome Powell, will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.).

The Monetary Policy Committee (FOMC), the decision-making body of the Fed, should decide to raise its key rates for the fifth time in a row since March. These are currently within a range of 2.25 to 2.50%.

An increase of three-quarters of a percentage point (75 basis points) is widely expected. This would be the third increase of this magnitude after the June and July meetings.

“The Fed will probably increase by 75 basis points today and will forecast an additional 100 basis points (1 percentage point, editor’s note) by the end of the year”, anticipates Ian Shepherdson, economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note.

Nearly one in five market participants are, however, expecting an even bigger upside, by a straight percentage point, according to CME Group’s futures product valuation.

– “Growing risks of a recession” –

Inflation certainly slowed down in August thanks to the fall in gasoline prices, but remained much stronger than expected, at 8.3% over one year, and the rise in prices is widespread.

Increases in key rates, which increase the interest rates of various loans, are intended to slow down economic activity, in order to ease the pressure on prices.

“The inflation rate will continue to determine the path of monetary policy, despite the growing risks of a recession in 2023”, underlines Kathy Bostjancic, economist for Oxford Economics, who also anticipates an increase of three quarters of percentage points. (75 basis points).

This deliberate slowdown in the economy is very tricky, because too much of a brake could tip the United States into recession, which is already hovering over the entire global economy.

The excellent health of the labor market, however, gives the Fed leeway to be aggressive, and hope to achieve the “soft landing” it is aiming for. The unemployment rate in the United States is 3.7%, one of the lowest in 50 years, and there are not enough workers to fill all the vacancies.

The powerful institution has hammered it: the fight against inflation is its priority. Letting it take hold would imply even more drastic and painful measures for households and businesses, like 40 years ago, after several years of soaring prices, sometimes approaching 15%.

“Time is running out,” said Jerome Powell recently.

– Don’t let inflation “take hold” –

Beyond the key rates, the Fed will also publish Wednesday its updated forecasts for GDP growth, inflation and unemployment rate.

It should, according to Ian Shepherdson, predict “slower growth, higher unemployment and lower inflation for next year”.

Kathy Bostjancic anticipates a “mild recession in the first half of 2023”, but thinks that the Fed will not be counting on such a scenario, only on a “downward revision of its GDP forecasts”.

In their previous economic forecast, released in June, Federal Reserve officials predicted 5.2% inflation in 2022 and 2.6% in 2023, with economic growth of 1.7% this year.

As for the unemployment rate, she saw it rising to 3.7% at the end of 2022 and climbing a little in 2023, to 3.9%.

The US central bank, like its counterparts around the world, is trying to rein in inflation caused by supply chain disruptions linked to Covid-19, and exacerbated by rising energy and food prices with the war in Ukraine.

Many are meeting this week, including Thursday, the Bank of England (BoE) and that of Japan (BoJ). Tuesday, the bank of Sweden, the Riksbank, had created the surprise with an unprecedented increase of one point.

In early September, the European Central Bank (ECB) struck a blow, raising its rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, unprecedented. Its president, Christine Lagarde, assured Tuesday that the institution was determined not to let inflation “get stuck”.

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