These days, central bank interest rate decisions are a bit like marriage proposals: there’s rarely a shock outcome. That’s because, in the name of transparency and smoothly functioning markets, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) does its best not to deliver any surprises. So Wednesday’s brand-new 0.25 percentage point hike (which raised the benchmark rates to 4.5%-4.75%) was well telegraphed and so was about as close as it gets to a sure thing.
But when it comes to the future direction of rates, things aren’t as harmonious. In fact, the Fed and investors have been engaged in a standoff. See, the central bank’s been shouting at the top of its lungs that it intends to take rates toward 5% and hold them there for a good while. Investors have had their fingers in their ears, though. They’re convinced that, as economic conditions worsen, there’ll have to be a “pivot”, and rates will start coming down by the second half of the year.
So, on Wednesday, the central bank just kept on shouting. Its rate announcement reiterated once more that a “sufficiently restrictive” policy and “ongoing rate hikes” are still in order.
And so the interest rate tussle rolls on to the next meeting in March, for yet another round in the Fed versus market fight. But if you have to ask yourself one question, make it this: in the end – meaning in three or five years – will it matter if the Fed pauses at 5% or 5.25%, and starts cutting in June or September? Probably not. So keep your focus on the big picture, and think about the longer term.
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