Fed Chair Powell Still Expects to Cut Rates This Year, but Not Yet

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said on Wednesday that he thinks the central bank will begin to lower borrowing costs in 2024 but that policymakers still needed to gain “greater confidence” that inflation was conquered before making a move.

“We believe that our policy rate is likely at its peak for this tightening cycle,” Mr. Powell said in remarks prepared for testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. “If the economy evolves broadly as expected, it will likely be appropriate to begin dialing back policy restraint at some point this year.”

The Fed next meets on March 19-20, but few investors expect officials to lower interest rates at that gathering. Markets see the Fed’s June meeting as a more likely candidate for the first rate cut, and are betting that central bankers could lower borrowing costs three or four times by the end of the year.

The Fed chair warned against cutting rates too early — before inflation is sufficiently snuffed out — noting that “reducing policy restraint too soon or too much could result in a reversal of progress we have seen in inflation and ultimately require even tighter policy.”

He also acknowledged that there could be risks to waiting too long, adding that “reducing policy restraint too late or too little could unduly weaken economic activity and employment.”

Mr. Powell and his colleagues are trying to strike a delicate balance as they figure out their next policy steps. Policymakers raised interest rates rapidly between March 2022 and July 2023, lifting them to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent, where they currently sit. That has made mortgages, business loans and other types of borrowing more expensive, helping to tap the brakes on an economy that otherwise retains substantial momentum.

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