The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark lending rate by one-quarter of a point on Wednesday, the second time this year it has reduced rates in the face of a weakening global economy.
The central bank’s new interest rate is now 1.75 percent to 2 percent, according to a statement issued after a two-day monetary policy meeting by the Federal Open Market Committee, the voting arm of the Fed.
While President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for rates of “ZERO or less” — a move he believes will boost the economy and drive the stock market higher — Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has resisted such pressure on the central bank, an independent and apolitical body. Powell reiterated in a press conference after the FOMC decision that the Fed remains focused on making “data-dependent” decisions and acting “as appropriate to sustain the current economic expansion.”
Despite promoting a rate cut, Trump was swift to criticize the Fed’s move, tweeting that “Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No “guts,” no sense, no vision! A terrible communicator!”
But market observers and economists are increasingly divided over whether the economy currently requires extra stimulus from the Fed. While China and the Eurozone have slashed their interest rate due to a demonstrable slowdown in economic growth, the U.S. economy remains robust, with solid yet slowing job gains, an unemployment rate that is the lowest in almost 50 years, and a modest uptick in wage growth.
“The economy has been defying gravity,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group. “We’ve been in the longest period of economic growth in history, so some turbulence is well-belated, and it’s understandable that the Fed will want to get in front of that.”
However, some recent economic data has been weak, with oil prices soaring after an attack on one of the world’s largest oil production facilities, investment uncertainty related to the ongoing trade skirmish with China, and stalled capital expenditure ahead of any conclusion to Brexit.
The Fed has raised rates eight times since Trump was elected, but reversed that trend in July when it enacted its first rate cut in more than a decade. Stocks took an immediate dive after Powell characterized that cut as a “midcycle adjustment” as opposed to the first in a series of cuts.
Wednesday’s decision comes after unusual intervention from the Fed, which injected $75 billion into the economy on Tuesday after its overnight lending rate spiked to almost 10 percent, after companies withdrew capital to pay quarterly tax obligations. The last time the Fed made such an emergency move to restore liquidity to markets was in 2008 as the financial crisis deepened.