WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve held its benchmark interest rate steady Wednesday and sent its strongest signal to date that it sees no need to raise rates anytime soon. Its message ignited a rally on Wall Street, which cheered the prospect of continued modest borrowing rates for the near future.
The Fed and its chairman, Jerome Powell, pointed to global economic pressures and consistently mild inflation as reasons to keep rates steady. The policymakers also said they’re prepared to slow the reduction of their bond holdings if needed to help the economy.
In a statement after its latest policy meeting, the Fed said it would be “patient” about future rate hikes. Its benchmark short-term rate will remain in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent after having been raised four times last year. The Fed’s key rate influences many loan rates for businesses and consumers, including mortgages.
The picture sketched by Powell and the Fed was of a U.S. economy that remains on firm footing with low inflation but that faces risks from a global slowdown and a U.S. trade war with China.
“The situation calls for patience,” Powell said at a news conference afterward. “We have the luxury to be patient.”
Before raising rates again, Powell said, he would need to see rising inflation. The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge has risen 1.8 percent in the past 12 months, below its 2 percent annual target.
“I would want to see a need for further rate increases, and for me a big part of that would be inflation,” the chairman said.
Pleased by the Fed’s benign outlook, investors sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 435 points and back above the 25,000 level.
The central bank said in its statement that it’s ready to use all its tools — including an adjustment to its bond portfolio — if it decided the economy needed more support. Since late 2017, the Fed has been gradually reducing its bond portfolio, a move that has likely contributed to higher borrowing rates. But at some point, to avoid weakening the economy, it could slow that process or end it sooner than envisioned. Doing so would help keep a lid on loan rates and help support the economy.
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2018, file photo, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at a news conference in Washington DC. With the Federal Reserve considered sure to leave interest rates unchanged Wednesday, investors will be looking to hear Powell sound a reassuring theme that a pause in the Fed’s rate hikes could last a while. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)