Fed's Consideration of a Pause Amid Strong Inflation
Since the last Fed meeting, topline inflation data has shown little improvement. Meanwhile, a recent labor market report indicates an increased ratio of available employees to job openings. This reflects a persistent imbalance in the labor market. Despite these factors, the Federal Reserve contemplates whether a cautious approach, such as holding off on a rate increase, might be more prudent given the uncertainty surrounding the economy's underlying strength.
Hawkish Pause: A Considered Approach
Addressing the ongoing debate, Philip Jefferson, the Fed Governor, and vice-chair nominee, argues for a "hawkish pause". This would entail maintaining the current rates but leaving room for potential increases. He insists that maintaining the policy rate in an upcoming meeting doesn't imply the peak rate has been reached in this cycle. This stance has resulted in a recalibration of market expectations, with the probability of a June rate hike now significantly reduced.
Additional Voices in Support of Skipping the Rate Hike
Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker contributes to the growing chorus suggesting a potential skip in the June rate hike. Although Harker emphasizes that upcoming job market data could influence his stance, he stands as another Federal Reserve official leaning towards skipping a single rate hike instead of halting increases for an extended period. This strategy balances the need to control inflation and the fear of a deepening economic slowdown.
Persistent Inflation Concerns
Despite the emerging consensus on a possible skip, there are dissenting voices within the Fed. The central bank's main inflation measure, more than double its 2% target, prompts officials like Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester to advocate for the continuity of rate hikes. Additionally, some factors, such as the tentative rebound in the housing market, might not help to lower inflation as much as expected.
A Cautionary Stance Amid Economic Uncertainties
However, Jefferson's comments hold significant sway as his nomination as vice-chair remains pending in the Senate. His observations about persistent high inflation, decelerating progress, and a likely sluggish economy for the rest of the year underscore the need for caution. Reflecting on the past 15 months, during which the policy rate increased by five percentage points, Jefferson suggests the full effect of monetary policy might still need to be felt, calling for prudence in the coming months.