Federal Reserve officials concluded earlier this month that inflation was steadily falling and agreed to closely monitor incoming data to ensure that the pace of price increases would continue slowing toward their 2% target, according to the minutes of their meeting released Tuesday.
As a result, the policymakers decided to leave their key benchmark rate unchanged but to keep it elevated for an extended period. Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell kept the door open for another rate hike, though most economists say they think the central bank is done raising rates.
The officials agreed at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 meeting that they would raise their key rate again if incoming economic data “indicated that progress” toward the 2% target “was insufficient,” the minutes said. That suggests that inflation would need to shift into a higher gear for the Fed to raise rates again.
The central bank’s decision to keep its key short-term rate unchanged for the second meeting in a row amounted to the longest pause in its rate-hiking campaign since it began jacking up rates in March 2022. The Fed has lifted its benchmark rate 11 times since then from nearly zero to about 5.4%, the highest in 22 years.
The minutes released Tuesday suggested that the Fed’s policymakers hope to see forthcoming data confirm that inflation is headed back toward their target level. With signs indicating that price pressures are cooling, Wall Street investors think the Fed could start cutting its key rate as soon as May, according to the CME Fedwatch Tool.
Fed officials expect that future economic data will “help clarify the extent to which” inflation kept falling, “demand was moderating” and “labor markets were reaching a better balance between demand and supply,” the minutes said.
Still, the policymakers “stressed that they would need to see more data indicating that inflation pressures were abating” to be sure that inflation was headed back toward their 2% target.
Chair Jerome Powell expressed some optimism at a news conference after the Nov. 1 meeting. He said “we’re making progress” in taming inflation, though he acknowledged that such progress would come “in lumps and be bumpy.”
Inflation has tumbled since its peak of 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.2% last month. October’s report also showed that core prices, which exclude the volatile food and energy categories, cooled from September to October and suggested that inflation is continuing to decline.