The Federal Reserve approved the largest hike to its benchmark interest rate since 1994 on Wednesday as officials frantically seek to tamp down the decades-high inflation hitting household budgets.

The rate-making Federal Open Market Committee announced the hike of 0.75%, or 75 basis points, at the conclusion of its two-day meeting. The hike moved the benchmark short-term rate to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%.

The hike was in line with revised expectations after last week’s release of the Consumer Price Index for May. The federal data showed inflation accelerated to a higher-than-expected 8.6% last month, the sharpest rate since December 1981.

“Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher energy prices, and broader price pressures,” the FOMC said in a statement.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell reiterated that the central bank was “moving expeditiously” to address inflation and acknowledged the historic nature of Wednesday’s increase.

“Inflation has obviously surprised to the upside over the past year — and further surprises could be in store,” Powell admitted in a press conference after the Fed’s meeting on Wednesday. “We therefore will need to be nimble in responding to incoming data and the evolving outlook.”

Fed hikes rates by 0.75 percentage point, biggest increase since 1994
New York Post composite

“Clearly, today’s 75 basis point increase is an unusually large one and I do not expect moves of this size to be common,” Powell added. “From the perspective of today, either a 50-basis point or a 75-basis point increase seems most likely at our next meeting.”

Fed officials said they expect the benchmark rate to hit a range of 3.25% to 3.5% by the end of this year. That would mark the highest level since 2008.

Stocks rose after Powell spoke to reporters, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 303.70 points, or 1%, to 30,668.53. The Nasdaq rose 270.80 points, or 2.5%, and the S&P 500 climbed 54 points, or nearly 1.5%.

US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks at a news conference on interest rates, the economy and monetary policy actions, at the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC, June 15, 2022. - The Federal Reserve announced the most aggressive interest rate increase in nearly 30 years, raising the benchmark borrowing rate by 0.75 percentage points on June 15 as it battles against surging inflation. The Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee reaffirmed that it remains "strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2 percent objective" and expects to continue to raise the key rate.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell is under pressure to tamp down inflation.
AFP

Wall Street had long anticipated another half-percentage-point hike this month — but the mood changed after a report surfaced that economic officials could implement an even larger increase due to alarming inflation data.

“This is all about signaling to the market that the Fed is now fully engaged in the current economic problem after months of missteps and transitory fantasies,” said Sean Bonner, a Wall Street veteran and CEO of Guild Financial.

While a 0.75% jump became the consensus view, some, including hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, suggested the economy would be better served if the Fed took drastic action by implementing a 1% hike.

Motorists have encountered record-high gas prices across the country over the last month as the national average surpassed an unprecedented $5 per gallon. Other necessities such as groceries and housing have also surged to their highest level in years.

Federal Reserve building
Investors are skeptical that the Fed will be able to engineer a soft landing for the economy.
REUTERS

Interest rate hikes make it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow money. The Fed is aiming to cool the economy and bring down inflation without tipping the country into a recession.

The benchmark rate can impact credit card rates, savings accounts, some student loans, auto loans and various other factors impacting household budgets.

It can also have indirect effects on mortgages. The 30-year fixed loan mortgage rate hit 6.23% this week after hovering below 3.5% in January — a trend that is having a cooling effect on the housing market.

Volatility in the stock market ahead of the Fed’s decision suggested investors are increasingly skeptical of the Fed’s ability to engineer that “soft landing” for the economy.

NYSE traders
The S&P 500 entered a bear market this week.
REUTERS

The S&P 500 entered bear market territory on Monday and risky assets such as cryptocurrencies and high-growth tech stocks have steadily sold off for months.

Critics have argued the Fed and other policymakers were too slow to react to rising prices before they took hold — with Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen initially dismissing inflation as “transitory.”

“The idea that there is some Goldilocks outcome in the cards or soft landing is a mockery,” said Danielle DiMartino Booth, CEO and chief strategist at Quill Intelligence. “Consumer sentiment is at record lows and jobless claims have surged since bottoming in mid-March, leaving little doubt that the US has entered recession.” 

“The only questions that remain are the length and depth of the current contraction,” she added.

President Biden
President Biden has blamed record gas prices on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said he disagreed with Yellen’s assertion that the economy would avoid a recession and said a downturn within the next two years is now “more likely than not.”

As The Post reported last week, economists are fearful that actions taken by Powell and President Biden thus far have been insufficient to prevent a recession. Powell and other policymakers have attributed inflation to ongoing supply chain disruptions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Biden has also focused on the Russia-Ukraine war, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is most responsible for record gas prices. Biden’s critics disagree and say his restrictive energy policies have exacerbated the problem.

The Fed has traditionally raised interest rates in quarter-percentage-point increments — with larger hikes reserved for periods of persistent inflation. In May, the central bank hiked rates by a steeper-than-expected half-percentage point for the first time since 2000.

Fed officials seemed to oppose taking more aggressive action as recently as last month. Powell told reporters that half-percentage-point hikes were “on the table” at meetings in June and July — though he said at the time the guidance was contingent on economic conditions.

Powell also said last month that the Fed was not “actively considering” a 0.75% increase. 



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