Federal Reserve cuts benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points

Fed Chair Powell says more rate cuts could be needed if economy weakens

The Federal Reserve voted to cut interest rates by a quarter-percentage point for the second time in as many months to cushion the economy against a global slowdown amplified by the U.S.-China trade war. While they left the door open to additional cuts, officials were split over the decision and the outlook for further reductions.

Voting for the today’s 25 basis point cut today were Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, John Williams, Michelle #Bowman, Lael #Brainard, Richard #Clarida, Charles #Evans, and Randal #Quarles. Voting against the action were James #Bullard, who preferred at the meeting to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 1.5% to 1.75%, and Esther George and Eric Rosengren, who preferred to maintain the target range at 2% to 2.25%.

FOMC Chair Powell votes for rate cut., Stockwinners

The Federal Reserve said in today’s statement, “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in July indicates that the labor market remains strong and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Although household spending has been rising at a strong pace, business fixed investment and exports have weakened. On a 12-month basis, overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed.”

Trade Negotiations

Fed Chair Powell said the Fed has to try to look through near-term volatility due to “complex” trade negotiations to react to the underlying economic situation. Powell said the central bank needs to be careful to not overreact but also to not underreact.

The Fed continues to see a strong labor market and reiterated that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low.

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There was still a split between solid household spending, but weakening in business fixed investment and exports. Inflation is still running below 2%, while market-based measures of remain low. The Committee continued to appeal to implications of global developments for the economic outlook and low inflation as rationale for the easing.

More from Powell: this is a time of difficult judgments and disparate perspectives. The bulk of the FOMC is taking it meeting-by-meeting. He continues to believe it’s better to be proactive when adjusting policy, and when trouble is seen approaching on the horizon, you should steer away from it if possible. The Fed has repeatedly shifted policy to support the economy, showing the Fed’s willingness to to move based on an evolving risk picture. There’s real uncertainty around the effects of the trade policy. On the funding issues seen this week, Powell said analysts took appropriate actions to address the pressures. If there are additional pressures, analysts have the tools to address the funding pressures and analysts will not hesitate to use them. The Fed will be returning to the question of when to build the balance sheet. The level remains uncertain, however.

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Economy expanded at a moderate rate

Fed’s Beige Book says “economic activity continued to expand”



Fed’s Beige Book says economic activity continued to expand , Stockwinners


Fed’s Beige Book: “economic activity continued to expand in late January and February,” said the report.

But 10 Districts noted “slight-to-moderate” growth, with Philly and St Louis reporting flat conditions. That’s the most tepid characterization in sometime, as the more normal description has been “moderate” to “modest.”

About half of the Districts said the shutdown weighed on some sectors, including consumer spending was mixed, but in part due to “harsh winter weather and higher costs of credit.”

Manufacturing generally strengthened but “numerous” contacts worries about weaker global growth, higher costs due to tariffs, and continued trade policy uncertainty.

The service sector increased at a modest-to-moderate pace. Also, residential construction activity was steady or slightly higher in most of the U.S., but home sales were generally lower.

There was little change in the employment outlook, with employment increasing in most Districts, with “modest-to-moderate gains in a majority of Districts and steady to slightly higher employment in the rest.

Labor markets remained tight for all skill levels.

Wages continued to increase for both low- and high-skilled positions, and a majority of Districts reported increases were moderate.

And for prices, they continued to increase at a modest-to-moderate pace, “with several Districts noting faster growth for input prices than selling prices. The ability to pass on higher input costs to consumers varied by region and industry.”

The report (prepared by KC Fed with data collected on or before February 25) is consistent with the FOMC’s outlook for slower growth with tame inflation.

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