WASHINGTON >> The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged today and showed little appetite for raising them in the near future, as officials expressed increased concern about slowing economic growth.
Widening a chasm in economic optimism between itself and bullish forecasts from the White House, the Fed said in a post-meeting statement that “growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter.”
Forecasting data released after the meeting show the typical member of the Federal Open Market Committee now expects not to raise rates at all this year, an abrupt halt to what had been a steady march of rate increases to the current range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent. The typical member now expects a single rate increase in 2020 and none in 2021.
That is a sharp decline from December when Fed officials said they expected two rate increases this year and another in 2020.
The Fed also revised down its expectations for headline inflation, which includes volatile commodities like oil and food, to 1.8 percent for the year. In December, the forecast was 1.9 percent.
Officials said they would end a wind-down of the Fed’s massive holdings of government-backed securities in September, after slowing it down in May. The Fed accumulated a massive portfolio of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities in an effort to stimulate the economy after the Great Recession but has been slowly winnowing those holdings. The Fed’s decision will leave more Treasury bonds on the Fed’s balance sheet than analysts had expected.
Driving the shift is officials’ mounting pessimism about the health of the U.S. economy, which has seen slowing growth and weakened economic data so far this year, amid fading stimulus from President Donald Trump’s signature 2017 tax cuts, headwinds from the administration’s trade war and slowdowns in key trading partners.
Fed officials now forecast growth of 2.1 percent for 2019, down from a 2.3 percent forecast in December. They expect growth to fall to 1.9 percent in 2020, down from a 2 percent forecast in December. At least one committee member forecasts growth of only 1.6 percent for 2019.
The White House insists growth will be much stronger: 3.2 percent this year and 3 percent next year. The gap between Fed expectations for annual growth and White House forecasts has never been wider in the decade since the recession ended.