Until the Federal Reserve finally begins to lift interest rates–and perhaps even a bit beyond–each Fed meeting will likely be touted as the most important in decades. Certainly this week’s meeting was. Very early in the year it appeared likely that the Fed would have lifted rates by now. This spring, with the U.S. economy appearing to slow, the day of reckoning was put off. Yesterday, with last month’s turmoil in China prompting stock market declines and concerns over a slowing global economy, the Fed once again declined to embark on the first Fed tightening in nine years.
More than anything the Fed seems concerned by the lack of evidence that inflation is approaching its target of 2%. Wage inflation has yet to emerge in spite of unemployment running at a comparatively low 5.1%. Meantime, cheaper oil and a strong dollar (which makes imported goods cheaper) continue to put downward pressure on prices.
Notably, of the 17 members that vote on rate increases, 13 believe that rates will increase by December, and six expect an increase next month. This suggests a strong desire to begin tightening before the end of the year. Will there be positive evidence by then that chairwoman Janet Yellen can point to as having bolstered the Fed’s confidence that inflation is on its way to 2%? It’s hard to say, but it may be that the Fed just wants a longer stretch of market calm before pulling the trigger. Stay tuned.