The Fed left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at its first meeting of 2019, a decision that was widely expected. What surprised markets was the indication that rates, which are in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, may stay put for some time.
The Fed’s chairman, Jerome H. Powell, said economic growth remained “solid” and the central bank expected growth to continue. But in a sharp reversal of the Fed’s stance just six week ago, Mr. Powell said the Fed had “the luxury of patience” in deciding whether to raise rates again.
“The case for raising rates has weakened somewhat,” Mr. Powell said, pointing to sluggish inflation, slowing growth in Europe and China, and the possibility of another federal government shutdown.
“My colleagues and I have one overarching goal,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference on Wednesday after a two-day meeting of the Fed’s policymaking committee, “to sustain the economic expansion.”
Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a solid rate. Job gains have been strong, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Household spending has continued to grow strongly, while growth of business fixed investment has moderated from its rapid pace earlier last year. On a 12-month basis, both overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy remain near 2 percent. Although market-based measures of inflation compensation have moved lower in recent months, survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed.
Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. In support of these goals, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent. The Committee continues to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes. In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate to support these outcomes.
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its maximum employment objective and its symmetric 2 percent inflation objective. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments.
Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Jerome H. Powell, Chairman; John C. Williams, Vice Chairman; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; James Bullard; Richard H. Clarida; Charles L. Evans; Esther L. George; Randal K. Quarles; and Eric S. Rosengren.