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Many US Fed officials support future half-point increase: minutes

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Federal Reserve meeting minutes indicate its top officials are ready to tighten monetary policy further to fight inflation./AFP
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Apr 07, 2022 - 06:56 AM

WASHINGTON — At their March policy meeting, several US Federal Reserve officials supported raising interest rates by half a percentage point in the future to combat inflation, minutes released Wednesday said.

“Many participants noted that one or more 50 basis point increases in the target range could be appropriate at future meetings, particularly if inflation pressures remained elevated or intensified,” according to minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) March 15-16 gathering.

Fed officials at that meeting decided to raise interest rates by a quarter percentage point, their first increase since slashing the rate to zero when Covid-19 broke out two years ago.

The central bank is under pressure to curb inflation, which has climbed to levels not seen since the 1980s in the United States, without tightening conditions so much they damage the economy’s recovery.

A half percentage point rate increase would represent a more forceful response to the inflation wave, and the minutes said many participants at last month’s meeting “would have preferred a 50 basis point increase in the target range for the federal funds rate.”

“A number of these participants indicated, however, that, in light of greater near-term uncertainty associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they judged that a 25 basis point increase would be appropriate at this meeting,” the minutes said.

Officials also believed “that the committee’s previous communications had already contributed to a tightening of financial conditions, as evident in the notable increase in longer-term interest rates over recent months,” according to the minutes.

Meeting participants wanted to “expeditiously” move towards neutral monetary policy — a term indicating a balance between restriction and accommodation for the economy — but “depending on economic and financial developments, a move to a tighter policy stance could be warranted.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other central bank leaders have signaled they will soon take further action to tighten policy by beginning the process of reducing the Fed’s stockpile of trillions of dollars in bonds and other securities, many of which were accumulated during the pandemic to support the economy.

The minutes said officials believe it is appropriate to begin the process of balance sheet runoff “at a coming meeting, possibly as soon as” the upcoming May 3-4 meeting.

Officials were leaning towards reducing their holdings by $60 billion per month for US Treasury securities and $35 billion for mortgage-backed securities, and phasing in the reductions over three months, the minutes said.

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