Fed Minutes Show Embrace of Inflation Progress but No Hurry to Cut Rates

Federal Reserve officials welcomed a recent inflation slowdown at their last meeting in late January but were intent on proceeding carefully as they tiptoe toward rate cuts, according to minutes from that gathering, which were released on Wednesday.

Central bankers raised interest rates sharply from March 2022 to July 2023, pushing them to 5.3 percent from a starting point near zero. Those moves were meant to cool consumer and business demand, which officials hoped would weigh down rapid inflation.

Now, inflation is slowing meaningfully. Consumer prices climbed 3.1 percent in the year through January, down sharply from their recent peak of 9.1 percent. But that is still faster than the pace that was normal before the pandemic, and it is above the central bank’s goal: The Fed aims for 2 percent inflation over time using a different but related metric, the Personal Consumption Expenditures index.

The economy has continued to grow at a solid clip even as price growth has moderated. Hiring has remained stronger than expected, wage growth is chugging along and retail sales data have suggested that consumers are still willing to spend.

That combination leaves Fed officials contemplating when — and how much — to lower interest rates. While central bankers have been clear that they do not think they need to raise borrowing costs further at a time when inflation is moderating, they have also suggested that they are in no hurry to cut rates.

“There had been significant progress recently on inflation returning to the committee’s longer-run goal,” Fed officials reiterated in their freshly released minutes. Officials thought that cooler rent prices, improving labor supply and productivity gains could all help inflation to moderate further this year. Policymakers also suggested that “upside risks to inflation” had “diminished” — suggesting that they are becoming more confident that inflation is coming down sustainably.

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