The Federal Reserve on Wednesday held its benchmark interest rate steady for a second consecutive time, while upgrading its view of the U.S. economy and leaving open the possibility of additional rate hikes should inflation quicken in coming months.
The central bank said in a statement after its latest meeting that it would maintain the federal funds rate in a range of 5.25% to 5.5%, the same level as it announced two meetings ago, in July. The Fed has now hiked its key short-term interest rate just once since May.
The Fed document noted that recent upheaval in the financial markets has pushed longer-term rates to more than 15-year highs and helped fuel higher borrowing rates across the U.S. economy.
Speaking at a news conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated that the acceleration in longer-term interest rates will slow the economy if they remain higher high for a prolonged period. But the Fed isn't yet confident that its own benchmark rate is high enough to curtail growth over time, he cautioned.
Powell also said policymakers recognize that the effects of their rate hikes have yet to be fully felt in the economy and that they want to take time to assess the impact.
"Slowing down" the rate hikes, Powell said, "is giving us a better sense of how much more we need to do, if we need to do more."
Fed officials changed their wording slightly in describing the pace of economic growth, now using the term "strong" instead of "solid" in taking into account improved economic reports since the September meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC.
The U.S. economyas Americans ramped up their spending on cars, restaurant meals, .
The Fed has sought to douse the hottest inflation in four decades by curbing demand for homes and autos, with price increases moderating this year.
While the Fed opted against increasing rates today, policymakers suggested they're prepared to tighten further if inflation flares.
"By leaving rates unchanged while continuing to flag the possibility of further tightening to come, the Fed indicated today that it remains in 'wait and see' mode," Andrew Hunter, deputy chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics, told investors in a research note. "But we suspect the data over the coming weeks will see the case for a final hike continue to erode, with the Fed likely to start cutting rates again in the first half of next year."
The Fed has quickly hiked borrowing costs to 22-year highs from near zero levels in March 2022 to combat inflation, making it pricier for Americans to obtain loans such as mortgages and to carry credit card debt.
Nationally, the average long-term fixed mortgage rate is nearing 8%, its highest level in 23 years.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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