Fed pledges to keep rates near zero until full employment, inflation come back

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The Federal Reserve painted a dour picture of current conditions and pledged Wednesday to continue its historically aggressive policy stance until it is comfortable that the U.S. economy is back on its feet.

Following this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the central bank said it would maintain its current interest rate target between 0% and 0.25%. 

“The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the committee said in its post-meeting statement. “The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.”

The commitment was stronger than most market participants expected and represents a pledge to hold rates near zero and keep them there until full employment returns and inflation gets back to around the Fed’s long-stated 2% goal.

There was no expression in the statement that the Fed feels confident about what its moves will lead to in terms of economic growth. Instead, the committee said it will continue to monitor conditions “including information related to public health, as well as global developments and muted inflation pressures, and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

There also was no mention of the pace of bond purchases in the future. The Fed is engaged in an open-ended program of purchasing Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities. Nor did the statement discuss any of the specific programs the Fed has implemented during the current crisis.

The move comes after a historically unprecedented time for the Fed.

Called into action to halt a market freeze and economic collapse from the coronavirus, the Fed enacted two emergency cuts that brought short-term borrowing rates back to where they were during the financial crisis. In addition, officials announced 10 separate programs aimed at providing market liquidity and getting loans to businesses and consumers in need, several of which are yet to be implemented.

In assessing the current state of affairs, the committee noted bleak conditions across multiple sectors of the economy.

“The coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world,” the post-meeting statement said.

“The virus and the measures taken to protect public health are inducing sharp declines in economic activity and a surge in job losses. Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation,” the statement continued. “The disruptions to economic activity here and abroad have significantly affected financial conditions and have impaired the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.”

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