Fed Considered Revising Pledge of `Further Gradual' Rate Hikes - TheStreet

Federal Reserve officials earlier this month discussed revising their pledge for "further gradual" increases in U.S. interest rates, adding to signs that a slowing economy and rough financial markets may prompt the central bank to pause in its three-year campaign to raise borrowing costs.

The discussions were revealed in minutes from the Fed's meeting on Nov. 7 and 8, released Thursday on the Fed's website.

While almost all participants at the meeting "reaffirmed the view that further gradual increases" were still warranted, some officials noted that such language would need to be revised at coming meetings, due to concern that a continued push might "unduly slow the expansion of economic activity." 

"Many participants indicated that it might be appropriate at some upcoming meetings to begin to transition to statement language that placed greater emphasis on the evaluation of incoming data in assessing the economic and policy outlook," according to the minutes. "Such a change would help to convey the committee's flexible approach in responding to changing economic circumstances."

On Wednesday, remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sent U.S. stocks soaring by the most in eight months, after many traders took his words to indicate that the central bank might halt or pause its three-year-long push to raise U.S. interest rates in early 2019.

Powell said in his speech that interest rates, currently set in a range of 2% to 2.25%, are "just below" the broad range of estimates of a level that would be neutral for economic growth. The verbiage marked a shift from his comment in early October that rates were "a long way from neutral." 

Since higher interest rates usually act to slow down economic growth, a pause in the Fed's hiking cycle could foster faster growth in corporate profits. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index shot up by 2.3% on Wednesday, the most since March. 

The central bank has been raising interest rates since 2015 to keep inflation from surging as the economy strengthened.

The effort has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump, who has lobbed repeated criticisms at the central bank for raising interest rates too quickly, saying Powell is making a mistake that has unnecessarily impeded economic growth and damped enthusiasm in the stock market.