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Fed Reserve officials continue to see "significant" inflation risk that may require more rate hikes

Inflation cools, but costs still high
High costs of necessities still impact household budgets despite cooling inflation 02:23

As recently as three weeks ago, most Federal Reserve officials said they still viewed high inflation as an ongoing threat that could merit additional interest rate increases. 

That's according to the U.S. central bank's July 25-26 meeting minutes, which were released Wednesday.

At the same time, the officials saw "a number of tentative signs that inflation pressures could be abating." It was a mixed view that echoed Chair Jerome Powell's noncommittal stance about future rate hikes at a news conference after the meeting.

According to the minutes, "[M]ost participants continued to see significant upside risks to inflation, which could require further tightening of monetary policy."

The Fed's policymakers also felt that despite signs of progress on inflation, it remained well above their 2% target. They "would need to see more data ... to be confident that inflation pressures were abating" and on track to return to their target.

Even so, some analysts on Wall Street are forecasting the Fed might pause on further rate hikes this year and start cutting rates in 2024, pointing to the ongoing trend of lower inflation throughout the year. But the Fed has long signaled that it wants inflation to return to the 2% range before easing up on its campaign of rate increases.

"The primary takeaway from the recently released minutes from the July FOMC meeting was that central bankers did not rule out additional rate hikes if inflationary pressures rise," said Sam Millette, fixed income strategist for Commonwealth Financial Network, in an email.

Recession fears dampened by strong consumer spending 03:36

Will the Fed raise rates in September?

At the July meeting, the Fed decided to raise its benchmark rate for the 11th time in 17 months in its ongoing drive to curb inflation. But in a statement after the meeting, it provided little guidance about when — or whether — it might raise rates again.

Earlier this week, economists at Goldman Sachs projected that the Fed will skip a rate hike in September and actually start to cut rates by the middle of next year.

Since last month's Fed meeting, more data has pointed in the direction of a "soft landing," in which the economy would slow enough to reduce inflation toward the central bank's 2% target without falling into a deep recession. The Fed has raised its key rate to a 22-year high of about 5.4%.

Inflation has cooled further, according to the latest readings of "core" prices, a closely watched category that excludes volatile food and energy costs. Core prices rose 4.7% in July a year earlier, the smallest such increase since October 2021. Fed officials track core prices, which they believe provide a better read on underlying inflation.

Jobs report shows solid labor market: "Steady path toward soft landing" 03:34

Overall consumer prices rose 3.2% in July compared with a year earlier, above the previous month's year-over-year pace pace because of higher gas and food costs. Still, that is far below the peak inflation rate of 9.1% in June 2022.

Yet that progress has been made without the sharp increase in unemployment that many economists had expected would follow the Fed's sharp series of interest rate hikes, the fastest in four decades.

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