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Powell says the Fed is ‘not far’ from the point of cutting interest rates

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing titled “The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress,” in Dirksen Building on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Thursday indicated that interest rate cuts may not be too far off if inflation signals cooperate.

In remarks to the Senate Banking Committee, the central bank leader didn’t provide a precise timetable of when he sees easing happening, but noted that the day could be coming soon.

“We’re waiting to become more confident that inflation is moving sustainably at 2%. When we do get that confidence, and we’re not far from it, it’ll be appropriate to begin to dial back the level of restriction,” Powell said in response to a question about rates and inflation. He said the cuts would be so the Fed doesn’t “drive the economy into recession rather than normalizing policy as the economy gets back to normal.”

Powell spoke at a time when financial markets have swung considerably in their expectations on Fed policy.

At the beginning of the year, futures traders were betting the Fed would start in March and keep going until it had cut six or seven times this year. The outlook now is for the first cut to come in June, with four reductions totaling a full percentage point by the end of 2024.

Inflation data recently has indicated the pace of price increases is continuing to slow, though the consumer price index rattled markets when it came in higher than expected for January. Still, Powell noted in congressional testimony this week that inflation is progressing lower, though not at the point yet where the Fed is ready to cut.

“I think we’re in the right place,” Powell said of the current policy stance.

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