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US Federal Reserve deliberates on rate cuts amidst inflation uptick

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The US Federal Reserve is poised to maintain its key lending rate steady on Wednesday, amidst ongoing deliberations regarding the initiation of rate cuts, aiming to steer the next phase of their enduring battle against inflation. Currently standing at a 23-year high between 5.25 and 5.50 percent, the Fed has elevated interest rates to counteract inflation, aiming to anchor it firmly to its long-term target of two percent.

While the previous year showcased significant strides against soaring prices, 2024 has presented challenges, with a slight escalation in monthly inflation rates observed in the United States. Despite this, the unemployment rate remains low, wage growth has stabilized, and the final quarter of 2023 witnessed economic growth surpassing expectations, indicating the resilience of the US economy even amidst heightened rates.

Following two days of extensive discussions, the Fed is set to unveil an updated Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) concurrently with its rate decision on Wednesday. This will include insights into policymakers’ perspectives on the anticipated interest rate trajectory by year-end.

Analysts anticipate a nuanced stance from policymakers, with the possibility of revising down the anticipated number of rate cuts for 2024. Wells Fargo, for instance, foresees the Fed predicting three interest rate cuts for the year, while others speculate on a potential reduction to two cuts during the year.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and fellow officials have recently emphasized the importance of prudence in adjusting interest rates, advocating for a “data-dependent” approach. Powell reiterated this stance earlier in March, highlighting the uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook and the necessity for continued progress toward the two percent inflation goal. Despite this caution, Powell affirmed his expectation for rate cuts to commence this year.

Market indicators suggest a shifting sentiment among futures traders, with a probability of approximately 55 percent assigned to a rate cut by June 12, according to CME Group data. This marks a notable departure from earlier expectations, with traders previously eyeing May for the first rate cut. Analysts anticipate a continued cautious approach from the Fed, with a consensus emerging around June or July for the potential initiation of rate cuts, contingent upon further data insights.

In summary, amidst evolving inflation dynamics and economic indicators, the US Federal Reserve prepares to provide fresh guidance on its rate cut strategy, balancing the imperative to combat inflation with the need to sustain economic growth and stability.

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