WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials are adamant they will keep raising interest rates until high inflation is under control, and the release on Wednesday of the minutes from their July 26-27 policy meeting may shed light on just how aggressive they expect to be.
The minutes, which are due to be published at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), could help clarify what would prompt Fed officials to deliver a third straight 75-basis-point rate increase at their Sept. 20-21 meeting, and what might lead them to limit upcoming increases to half-percentage-point increments.
Data since the Fed’s last policy meeting showed annual consumer inflation eased in July to 8.5% from 9.1% in the prior month, a fact that would argue for the smaller 50-basis-point rate increase next month.
But other data released on Wednesday showed why that remains an open question.
Core U.S. retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were stronger than expected in July. That data, along with the shock-value headline that inflation had passed the 10% mark in the United Kingdom, seemed to prompt investors in futures tied to the Fed’s target policy interest rate to shift bets in favor of a 75-basis-point rate hike next month.
Meanwhile, a Chicago Fed index of credit, leverage and risk metrics showed continued easing. That poses a dilemma for policymakers who feel that tighter financial conditions are needed to curb inflation, which is running at a four-decade high and is, by the Fed’s preferred measure, more than three times the central bank’s 2% target.
Job and wage growth in July exceeded expectations, and a recent stock market rally may show an economy still too “hot” for the Fed’s comfort.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell, speaking to reporters after the release of the last policy statement in late July, left open the possibility of another large rate hike or a somewhat smaller one, and analysts will be looking to the minutes of that meeting for hints about what might push the central bank in one direction or the other.
“The timing of the slowdown in rate increases or the conditions that would allow for the slowdown were not specified by Powell. This opens the door to a more extended, and nuanced, discussion in the minutes,” analysts from Citi wrote.
The minutes of each Fed policymaking session are released three weeks after the fact and, while they reflect the detailed debate among policymakers and staff, can often seem dated.
But Fed officials for much of this year have been reshaping monetary policy at an unusually fast clip to get ahead of the worst inflation outbreak since the early 1980s, and the minutes have reflected that increasing sense of urgency.
The readout from the July meeting is likely to do the same, and emphasize the depth of the Fed’s determination to get inflation on a sustainable downward path. The Fed has lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate by 225 points this year to a target range of 2.25% to 2.50%.
For the Fed to scale back its rate hikes, inflation reports due to be released before the next meeting would likely need to confirm that the pace of price increases had peaked and was now in decline – a point officials have pressed in their public statements since the last meeting (Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Paul Simao)