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Fed Chairman Powell: A half-percentage point interest rate hike is ‘on the table’ for May

By Anneken Tappe, CNN Business

A half-percentage point interest rate hike is officially on the table, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday, as the central bank prepares to get inflation under control.

“50 basis points will be on the table for the May meeting,” Powell said during a panel at the International Monetary Fund Debate on the Global Economy.

In March, the central bank raised interest rates by a quarter-percentage point to a range of 0.25% to 0.5% in its first hike since 2018. Investors unanimously expect a bigger rate increase at the bank’s early May meeting, according to the CME’s FedWatch Tool.

“It is appropriate in my view to be moving a little more quickly,” Powell said Thursday, adding that the Fed’s last tightening cycle, which was a string of quarter-percentage point increases, occurred at a time when there was much lower inflation.

The central bank is tasked with bringing inflation back down from the levels not seen in 40 years. The tricky part will be raising rates without pushing the economy back into a recession. That kind of “soft landing” is the goal, Powell said.

The dynamics of the pandemic, as well as the war in Ukraine, are pushing up energy and food costs and fueling the nation’s high inflation.

Even though the US economy is more shielded from the Ukraine conflict than Europe’s economies, the geopolitical situation will still put upward pressure on US inflation, Powell said.

“Our goal is to use our tools to get supply and demand back in sync,” Powell said.

Economists, including those at the Fed, expect inflation to have peaked in the first few months of the year.

“These expectations have been disappointed in the past,” said Powell. Maybe March was the inflation peak, he added, “but we don’t know that” yet.

Earlier Thursday, Powell called former Fed boss Paul Volcker, who battled high inflation in the 1970s and 1980s, the greatest economic public servant of the era. Volcker raised interest rates to a record 20% in the 1980s in response to the nation’s double-digit inflation. He knew that in order to save the economy he needed to stay the course and couldn’t be swayed by political opinion, Powell said in pre-recorded remarks at a special briefing of the Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research.

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