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Fed minutes expected to give more clues about rate cut trajectory

The Federal Reserve’s stance on interest rates is a significant point of uncertainty as we enter 2024. The latest details on this matter may emerge from the readout of the last policy meeting of 2023, which took place in mid-December.

During that meeting, the Federal Reserve held the policy interest rate steady in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%. However, projections were provided, indicating that most officials anticipate a need for interest rates to decrease by at least three quarters of a percentage point over the year. This is tied to the expectation that inflation will steadily decline to the Fed’s target of 2%.

The minutes from the December meeting could shed light on how close officials believe they are to the point where a less restrictive monetary policy is necessary to maintain a soft landing. The goal is to ensure that inflation continues to decrease without causing significant damage to the job market.

While the minutes may not explicitly point to a rate cut in March, which is currently expected by investors, they are likely to signal the Fed’s increasing confidence as inflation appears to be on a trajectory towards price stability. Economic data released since the last meeting is also expected to influence this shift in policy direction.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell has previously mentioned that rates would need to fall before inflation returns to the 2% target to avoid being too late. Economists generally anticipate that the Fed could start reducing rates around June.

However, if inflation data turns out to be weaker than expected, there’s a possibility of a rate cut as early as March. Investors are strongly supporting this view, also expecting the central bank to cut rates by 1.5% by the end of the year—twice what Fed policymakers themselves anticipate. The discrepancy between investor expectations and Fed projections underscores the uncertainty and dynamic nature of the economic landscape.