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Fed cuts rate, citing “global developments”

Central bankers pledge to stop selling off MBS, Treasuries

The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point on Wednesday at the end of a two-day meeting in Washington, D.C., in a bid to keep the longest economic expansion in U.S. history from petering out. It was the first reduction since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

Central bankers also said they would halt the unwinding of its $3.8 trillion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities in August, earlier than expected. The Fed began the purchasing and holding of assets, known as quantitative easing or QE, in 2008 as a bid to bolster the U.S. financial system and the housing market.

“The outlook for the U.S. economy remains favorable, and this action is designed to support that outlook," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference that followed the end of the meeting. "It is intended to ensure against downside risks from weak global growth and trade policy uncertainty, and to help offset the effects these factors are currently having on the economy.”

In a statement at the end of their meeting, Fed officials lowered their assessment of economic growth to a “moderate” rate from the “solid” pace cited at their last gathering.

“In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the Committee decided to lower the target range,” the statement said.

The cut in the Fed’s benchmark rate will reduce costs for homebuilders and lead to an increase in the inventory of homes for sale, said Noah Breakstone, CEO of BTI Partners, a real estate developer in Florida. Tight inventory has made it tougher for first-time homebuyers to get into the market, he said.

“The Federal Reserve’s decision today to lower interest rates will bring an added level of certainty to the housing market,” Breakstone said. “Lower interest rates will make development and construction for regional and national homebuilders more affordable at a time when labor and material costs are increasing.”

U.S. economic growth next year will probably slow to about half the pace seen in 2018, Fannie Mae said in its July forecast. The economy got a temporary boost last year from changes to federal tax laws that slashed corporate tax rates to 21% from 35%, but that effect has diminished, Fannie Mae said in the forecast.

“We believe growth will slow in 2020 to 1.6% due to waning fiscal stimulus, continued uncertainty weighing on consumer and business confidence, and eventually a slowdown in consumer spending,” Fannie Mae said.

Fannie Mae’s GDP forecast for next year compares with its prediction of a 2.1% pace in 2019 and the 3% rate seen in 2018. The mortgage financier also raised its forecast for core Consumer Price Index growth – that’s the CPI minus food and energy – the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge. Fannie Mae said the U.S. probably will see a 1.9 increase in core CPI in 2019, below the Fed’s target of 2%.

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In a unanimous 26-0 vote, the Senate Finance Committee approved Janet Yellen’s nomination to the U.S. Treasury Secretary on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there would be no other votes in the Senate on Friday, meaning there will not be confirmation of Yellen as Treasury Secretary until this weekend or next week, if she is approved.

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