The Federal Reserve today pushed a key interest rate up by a quarter-point to 2.75 percent as it continued its campaign to gradually nudge rates high enough to make sure that a rebounding economy does not trigger unwanted inflation.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve today pushed a key interest rate up by a quarter-point to 2.75 percent as it continued its campaign to gradually nudge rates high enough to make sure that a rebounding economy does not trigger unwanted inflation.
The increase in the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other, marked the seventh time the central bank has pushed rates higher since it started its current credit tightening campaign last June. At that time, the funds rate stood at a 46-year low of 1 percent.
The Fed kept language that it has used with every rate increase, saying that future rate hikes would occur “at a pace that is likely to be measured,” language seen as indicating continued quarter-point moves at the central bank’s regular meetings.
Some economists had suggested that the “measured” pledge might be dropped at this meeting, given the recent surge in oil prices to above $57 per barrel.
The Fed’s action was expected to quickly translate into higher borrowing costs for millions of consumers and businesses with commercial banks matching the quarter-point move by a similar increase in their prime rates. The prime rate has been at 5.5 percent since the Fed’s last rate increase on Feb. 2.
The Fed’s brief statement kept the pledge to move rates at a “measured” pace and kept the assessment that the risks going forward were balanced between the threat of inflation and the threat that the economy might soften unexpectedly.
However, the Fed did indicate somewhat more concern about inflation, saying, “Though longer-term inflation expectations remain well contained, pressures on inflation have picked up in recent months and pricing power is more evident.”
But the Fed said that it did not believe that the rise in energy prices had “notably fed through to core consumer prices.”
Analysts said this comment supported a view voiced by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other Fed officials that while energy prices have been increasing, those higher costs have not triggered higher overall inflation pressures.
Analysts said the Fed had to be pleased by recent signs of economic strength including the report that 262,000 new jobs were created in February, the biggest gain in four months.
Many economists believe the economy has been growing at a rate above 4 percent in the January-March quarter.
So far, the so-called core rate of inflation, excluding volatile energy and food prices, has stayed well-behaved at the retail level.
While core inflation rate at the wholesale level shot up by 0.8 percent in January, the fastest pace in more than six years, the government reported today that these price pressures eased significantly in February, with core wholesale prices rising by only 0.1 percent.
Many analysts are looking for oil prices to retreat in coming months, helping inflation pressures to subside.
Some analysts said the Fed could stay with its measured pace of quarter-point moves for the rest of the year and, if it does, they don’t see long-term rates — which are set by financial markets — surging either.
Rates on 30-year mortgages have been rising for the past five weeks and stand at 5.95 percent, according to a weekly survey by Freddie Mac but many analysts believe the 30-year rate will rise to only around 6.5 percent by the end of the year, just a half-point higher than it is now.