The Federal Reserve sent a stark message Wednesday: The economy is slowing. And it won’t be raising interest rates anytime soon.
The central bank said it was keeping its benchmark rate — which can influence everything from mortgages to credit cards to home equity lines of credit — in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. It also announced that by September, it will no longer reduce its bond portfolio, a change intended to help keep long-term loan rates down.
Combined, the moves signal no major increases in borrowing rates for consumers and businesses. And together with the Fed’s dimmer forecast for growth this year — 2.1 percent, down from a previous projection of 2.3 percent — the statement it issued after its latest policy meeting suggests it’s grown more concerned about the economy. What’s more, with inflation remaining mild, the Fed feels no pressure to tighten credit.
The Fed’s new embrace of patience and flexibility reflects its response since the start of the year to slow growth at home and abroad, a nervous stock market and persistently mild inflation. The Fed executed an abrupt pivot when it met in January by signaling that it no longer expected to raise rates anytime soon.
The shift toward a more hands-off Fed and away from a policy of steadily tightening credit suggests that the policymakers recognize that they went too far after they met in December. At that meeting, the Fed approved a fourth rate hike for 2018 and projected two additional rate increases in 2019. Powell also said he thought the balance sheet reduction would be on “automatic pilot.”