Fed's Powell downplays potential for a rate hike despite higher price pressures

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the central bank is unlikely to raise its key interest rate in response to signs of stubborn inflation and underscored his view that price increases would soon start to cool again.

Yet Powell, during a panel discussion in Amsterdam, said his confidence that inflation will cool “is not as high as it was” because price increases have been persistently hot in the first three months of this year. Powell stressed that the Fed’s preferred approach was to keep its benchmark rate at its current two-decade peak rather than increase it.

“I don’t think that it’s likely, based on the data that we have, that the next move that we make would be a rate hike,” Powell said. “I think it’s more likely that we’ll be at a place where we hold the policy rate where it is.”

Financial markets and economists have been hoping for signs that one or two Fed rate cuts might be coming this year, given that inflation is down sharply from its high in 2022. But with price pressures still elevated, Powell and other Fed officials have signaled that no rate cut is likely anytime soon.

Powell spoke hours after a report on U.S. producer prices showed that wholesale inflation picked up in April. On Wednesday, the government will issue the latest monthly report on consumer inflation, which is expected to show that price growth cooled a bit last month.

Economists are divided over whether the high inflation figures this year reflect a re-acceleration in price growth or are largely echoes of pandemic distortions. Auto insurance, for example, has soared 22% from a year ago, but that surge may reflect factors specific to the auto industry. New car prices jumped during the pandemic, and insurance companies are now seeking to offset the higher repair and replacement costs by raising their premiums.

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