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Fed ups rates by quarter percentage point amid inflation worries and a bank crisis

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Fed chair Jerome Powell announced further interest rate hikes Wednesday amid ongoing banking turmoil. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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The Federal Reserve is in the middle of a delicate balancing act. It has to deal with the banking crisis, but it’s also still worried about inflation. Wednesday, the Fed continued its series of interest rate hikes, raising rates a quarter of a percentage point.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell spent much of yesterday’s press conference talking about the Fed’s enemy No. 1: inflation. Powell said no one should doubt the Fed’s resolve in continuing to raise interest rates to get inflation down to its target of 2%.

And while the Fed did consider pausing rate hikes at yesterday’s meeting, according to Powell, inflation was higher than expected last month, and the Fed doesn’t want to look like it’s backing down.

“We are committed to restoring price stability and all of the evidence says the public has confidence that we will do so. That we will bring inflation down to 2% over time,” Powell said. “It is important that we sustain that confidence with our actions as well as our words.” 

The Fed has another enemy to keep an eye on — all the banking turmoil. But, in a weird way, that might actually be more of a frenemy. That’s because jittery bankers are now less likely to lend, ad that can cool off the economy — an effect not unlike that of a Fed interest rate hike.

“We’re looking at what’s happening among the banks and asking, ‘Is there going to be some tightening of credit conditions,'” Powell said. “And then we’re thinking about that as effectively doing the same thing that rate hikes do. So in a way that substitutes for rate hikes.”

But don’t get carried away and expect the Fed to lower interest rates anytime soon; Fed officials don’t foresee rate cuts this year, according to Powell. In the meantime, while the Fed is investigating why Silicon Valley Bank failed, Powell said he would also welcome an independent investigation. 

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