WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve delivered no surprises on Wednesday after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee. The Fed, which is wrapping up its post-crisis economic stimulus campaign, said in a post-meeting statement the next step would come “relatively soon” so long as moderate economic growth continues.
• The Fed left its benchmark interest rate in a range between 1 percent and 1.25 percent.
• The downsizing of the Fed’s bond holdings will begin “relatively soon.”
• The Fed noted the weakness of inflation, but said it expected a rebound.
The Fed remains officially sanguine about a recent downturn in inflation. That is likely to reinforce market expectations that the Fed will tighten policy at its next meeting, in September. Rather than raising its benchmark rate, the Fed is expected to announce that it will begin to reduce its bond holdings.
The Fed accumulated more than $4 trillion in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities as part of its campaign to reduce borrowing costs for businesses and consumers. Under its exit plan, which it described in June, it would gradually reduce those holdings — initially at the slow pace of $10 billion a month.
The Fed has held borrowing costs at low levels since the financial crisis to increase economic activity by encouraging borrowing and risk-taking. It is now trying to raise costs to reduce those incentives.
By the end of the year, the Fed projects that rates could return to a level that would neither encourage nor discourage economic activity.
So far, however, markets have largely shaken off the Fed’s retreat. Borrowing costs remain low and loan terms have shown little sign of tightening. Some measures show financial conditions have eased since the Fed began its retreat.
At its last meeting, in June, the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate for the third consecutive quarter, to a range from 1 percent to 1.25 percent. The Fed also described its plans for reducing its bond holdings, a process that analysts expect to begin at the Fed’s next meeting.
Those steps reflected the Fed’s confidence in the health of the economy.
Since then, however, some Fed officials have expressed concern about fresh weakness in inflation. The Fed’s preferred measure declined in the last three monthly reports, to 1.4 percent in May from an annualized pace of 2.1 percent in February.
The Fed aims to keep inflation at a 2 percent annual rate. While high and rising inflation is economically disruptive, lower inflation can cause problems, too.
Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has been most vocal in warning that the Fed may be raising interest rates too quickly. He voted against the quarter-point rate hikes in March and again in June. Several other members of the Fed’s policy-making committee have expressed concern in recent weeks.
Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, has acknowledged the recent weakness, but she has said that she expects inflation to rebound. Job growth remains strong, with most Fed officials seeing a tight labor market that is likely to result in higher prices.
The Fed has predicted one more rate increase this year, but analysts do not expect a decision any earlier than December, so the Fed has time to consider the incoming data.