Fed minutes show more rate cuts likely through 2020

FOMC divided over state of economy

The Federal Reserve released the minutes Wednesday from its July Federal Open Markets Committee meeting, showing that more rate cuts are likely through the end of 2020.

At the end of its most recent July meeting, the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point 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.

Now, the Fed released its minutes from the meeting, giving insight into the committee’s reasoning for the rate cut.

The committee gave three overarching reasons for its decision to lower interest rates: a slowdown in economic activity, trade policy risks and slowing global growth and low wage growth and inflation.

“In particular, sluggish U.S. business fixed investment spending and manufacturing output had lingered, suggesting that risks and uncertainties associated with weak global economic growth and in international trade were weighing on the domestic economy. Strong labor markets and rising incomes continued to support the outlook for consumer spending, but modest growth in prices and wages suggested that inflation pressures remained muted. Inflation had continued to run below the Committee’s 2% symmetric objective.”

One expert explained the Fed tipped its hand to reveal it intends to continue lowering the federal funds rate.

“Revealingly, participants noted that low borrowing costs and high equity prices were ‘premised importantly’ on expected Fed rate cuts,” Capital Economics Senior U.S. Economist Michael Pearce said. “Translation: The Fed is petrified of upsetting the markets and will therefore continue cutting rates.”

“At this point, there is little sign that the Fed is willing to push back on the markets,” Pearce said. “As such, another 25-basis point cut in September still looks like a good bet, if only because the Fed will not want to disappoint lofty market expectations.”

But another expert pointed out the rate cut decision was not without its opponents. In fact, the minutes reveal a sharp division between some committee members.

“Two members wanted a 50 basis point cut in July due to the persistent shortfall in inflation below the committee’s target, while others thought the recent rise in inflation justified their assessment that such weakness owed to transitory factors, and therefore warranted caution in easing policy,” said Curt Long, the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions chief economist and vice president of research.

But Long also agreed the market will likely see yet another rate cut in September.

“The events since the July meeting will only drive those two factions further apart and present a real challenge for Chairman Powell as he tries to present a unified front ahead of the September meeting. The best guess at this point is for another 25-basis point cut, but that is not the foregone conclusion financial markets are assuming,” he said.

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