The Fed’s inflation story ‘hasn’t really changed’: Morning Brief

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The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left forecasts that it would cut rates three times this year unchanged.

And to hear it from Fed Chair Jay Powell, the reason why is no mystery — the Fed’s inflation story hasn’t changed, either.

Referring to inflation readings in January and February, which suggested progress on inflation moving back towards the Fed’s 2% target had stalled, Powell said these readings together “haven’t really changed the overall story, which is that of inflation moving down gradually on a sometimes bumpy road toward 2%.”

Over the balance of Powell’s press conference, the word “bumpy” was used in reference to inflation’s path at least a half dozen more times.

And so the bumps will continue. But as Powell made clear elsewhere in his press conference, returning inflation to 2% “is our goal, and we’ll achieve that goal.”

Heading into Wednesday’s news, investors remained mostly fixed on the Fed’s “dot plot,” which in December had suggested three rate cuts would be warranted by the end of this year. The stock market’s surge to record highs on Wednesday shows investors were pleasantly surprised to see the Fed affirm this forecast.

And Powell’s outline of the current inflation story offers investors a valuable tool in navigating the volatility of monthly economic data: flexibility.

Between now and the Fed’s June meeting — which is when many on Wall Street expect rate cuts to begin — inflation data becomes, on the margins, less important. Readings that show inflation dropping more or less than expected need not be an occasion to reprice the Fed’s future plans.

In his press conference, Powell remained resolute that rate cuts will be needed “at some point” in 2024. Moreover, the Fed chair reiterated that rates are likely at their highs for the current cycle.

Passing suggestions from some corners of the financial commentariat that inflation data could bring rate hikes back into play for the Fed were given no quarter by Powell on Wednesday.

When pressed on the timing for future rate cuts, Powell said simply, “We didn’t make any decisions about future meetings today.”

And although narrowly true, there is little doubt about what the Fed’s future broadly has in store. Especially when allowing for plenty of bumps along the way.

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