Business

Fed raises rates as US economy eyes heightened inflation spike from Putin’s war

The US central bank has fired the starting pistol on interest rate rises as the world’s largest economy faces up to a surge in inflation that is only predicted to accelerate during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate, for the first time since 2018, by a quarter point to a target range of 0.25% to 0.5% and signalled further increases towards a 2% level by the year’s end.

It marked the bank’s first major move against prices that have been leaping upwards since April last year.

Policymakers opted to allow the economy to run hot as employment recovered from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks during his re-nominations hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2022.
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Fed chair Jay Powell is due to give a news conference shortly

However, inflation is currently at its highest level for almost 40 years and expected, by the Fed, to accelerate as the impact of President Putin’s war and resulting Western sanctions disrupt key commodity flows such as oil, gas, metals and foodstuffs including wheat.

The future inflation path is further complicated by the pandemic, which has forced large parts of China’s economy into lockdown sparking further supply chain delays globally.

The dilemma facing the Fed is that a series of rate rises, designed to cool inflation expectations around things such as wage increases, could choke off demand in an economy facing severe uncertainty because borrowing costs go up.

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But the bank said the war in Ukraine was creating “additional upward pressure on inflation” and weighing on
economic activity.

It indicated that “ongoing increases” in the target federal funds rate – its core rate – would be “appropriate”.

The monetary policy language was evident too as inflation was projected to remain “elevated”, ending 2022 at 4.3%.

The Fed also adjusted its expectations for US economic growth this year.

It had forecast 4% in December but now pencilled in a rate of 2.8%.

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