US Federal Reserve raises interest rate for 7th time this year: Here’s what it means

The United States Federal Reserve following its last meeting of the year on Wednesday announced another interest rate hike, this time by half a percentage point making this its seventh time this year. Furthermore, the officials have also said that the central bank will deliver more interest rate hikes in 2023, in a bid to tame decade-high inflation in the country. 

The interest rate, which is now at its highest in the last 15 years, seems to be reducing inflation to some degree as the US CPI data shows that the annual inflation has slowed down from 7.7 per cent in October to 7.1 per cent in November. However, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that the recent slowing down has not been reassuring that the fight has been won.

Why is the Fed raising the interest rates?

When an economy is booming and inflation is on the rise, an increase in the interest rates slows everything down by making borrowing more expensive and discouraging consumers and businesses to spend more. This decrease in spending typically slows the economy and cools down inflation. 

These hikes are also in line with the central bank’s goal to push inflation down to two per cent. So far, the Feds have been aggressively raising the interest rate as the country continues to battle high inflation, this time around, the benchmark was raised by half a point as opposed to the string of four straight three-quarter point hikes in the past couple of months. 

Furthermore, the interest rate hike announced on Wednesday also marked the highest fed funds rate since December 2007 during the onset of the global financial crisis of 2008. However, this trend may continue for the upcoming year as it is projected that the rates would rise above five per cent by the end of next year, which is now somewhere between the 4.25 per cent to 4.5 per cent range. 

What does it mean for American consumers?

The federal funds rate, set by the central bank, is the interest rate at which the commercial banks borrow and lend from one another overnight. Consequently, it directly or indirectly affects the borrowing costs for consumers and their earnings on savings accounts. 

As of now, this leads many Americans to lean on credit as they are affected at a time when they are facing higher prices due to inflation as well as an unprecedented rise in interest rates which has not been witnessed in the past decade or so.

Notably, the Fed does not control all interest rates; rather it’s a ripple effect, which begins with the central bank raising the interest rates and others following suit. Some of these interest rates affected include mortgages, credit cards, and other loans. 

Chief financial analyst at Bankrate, Greg McBride, said, “Credit card rates are at a record high and still increasing. Auto loan rates are at an 11-year high. Home equity lines of credit are at a 15-year high. And online savings account and CD yields haven’t been this high since 2008.” 

The New York-based consumer financial services firm, Bankrate also noted that the average credit card rate hit a record high of 19.40 per cent (as of December 7) which is up from 16.3 per cent since the beginning of the year. Consequently, with the recent hike consumers can also witness an increase in their credit card rates within a few statements. 

Therefore, McBride suggests transferring any balances on the credit cards to a zero-rate balance transfer card which locks in a zero rate between a year and 21 months, this would “insulate you from rate hikes” giving the consumer a “clear runway” to pay off their debt. He added, “Less debt and more savings will enable you to better weather rising interest rates, and is especially valuable if the economy sours.”

As for mortgages, the recent Fed hike would affect millions. Freddie Mac, an enterprise promoting home lending, said that with every percentage point increase in mortgage rates, which is eventually affected by the increase in the central bank’s benchmark rate, households which can afford a $400,000 mortgage decline by three to four million. 

Furthermore, according to the federally funded company, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage average was 6.33 per cent by the end of the second week of December which is more than double the same time last year, for the first time in US history. This comes as mortgage rates have been rising over the past year or so which has also affected at least 15 million potential homebuyers. 

The 30-year average at one point had peaked above seven per cent, however, the decrease is not enough to help buyer affordability, said McBride. Furthermore, with mortgage rates rising faster than home prices dropping, Americans will be forced to spend more which could add to the financial stress of high inflation, said a report by NBC. Therefore, with more hikes in the Fed interest rate on the horizon, mortgage rates may climb further. 

How has the market reacted to the latest hike?

Interest rate hikes typically create volatility in the stock market and this time was no different. Following the announcement, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 142.29 points or 0.42 per cent, while S&P 500 lost 24.33 points or 0.61 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 85.93 points, or 0.76 per cent, reported Reuters. 

Notably, three major averages on Wall Street might witness a yearly decline for the first time since 2018 as well as their biggest annual percentage decline since the financial crisis of 2008. This comes as nearly all 11 major S&P 500 sectors ended in negatives on Wednesday with healthcare being an exception, while financials were down 1.29 per cent making it the worst performing sector. 

ALSO READ | Dollar gains broadly as upbeat US data muddles Fed rate hike views

Meanwhile, the condition of Asian stocks was no better, on Thursday, following the announcement and declines on Wall Street, Japan’s Nikkei dropped 0.42 per cent, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.62 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng witnessed a decline of 1.13 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi tumbled 1.32 per cent. 

The decline has also been attributed to a rise in COVID-19 cases in China and crude oil’s downturn after strong gains a day prior. Additionally, while Beijing moves to open its economy after lifting its stringent zero-Covid restrictions, the slowed factory output and fewer retail sales in November continued to affect its outlook. 

What has the Fed forecasted for the upcoming year?

On Wednesday, following the announcement of the interest rate hike, Powell also said that more interest rate hikes are on the horizon for the upcoming year while the US economy is in the midst of possibly slipping into recession. The Fed officials also projected a rise in the unemployment rate from the current 3.6 per cent to 4.6 per cent for the upcoming year.  

Currently, the rate of unemployment is increasing by 0.5 per cent annually and by the end of 2023, it would be well beyond what has historically been associated with recession. However, Powell has said that they don’t “talk about this kind of recession, that kind of a recession. We just make these forecasts.”

During the press conference, following the meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), he also said that there is no “completely painless way to restore price stability” and they are doing the best they can. However, even with the recent aggressive hikes, inflation remains at least three times higher than their target and they speculate it will take at least three years for things to fall back. 

“The inflation data received so far in October and November show a welcome reduction in the pace of price increases, but it will take substantially more evidence to give confidence inflation is on a sustained downward path,” said Powell. 

(With inputs from agencies) 


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