Fed holds rates steady for final meeting of the decade

The Federal Reserve said it does not intend to raise or lower rates until at least the end of 2020.
Image: US-BANK-RATE-ECONOMY
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Sept. 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Lucy Bayly

Federal Reserve officials agreed Wednesday to hold interest rates steady, in the central bank's final monetary policy-making meeting of the decade.

The Federal Open Market Committee, which comprises 12 Fed participants who vote on rates, was unanimous in its decision. The FOMC said it intended to keep rates at the current range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent until at least the end of 2020.

The Fed has slashed its benchmark rate three times this year, including at its last two-day meeting, on October 29-30, in response to prevailing global economic headwinds. That was a sharp turnaround from 2018, when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell attracted President Donald Trump's ire for raising rates four times in a row in order to manage inflationary pressure.

2019 has proven to be a challenging year for Trump-appointee Powell, who has been careful to note that the central bank has steered the economy through a series of rate cuts in response to financial conditions, not political rhetoric.

With unemployment at its lowest level in five decades, strong corporate earnings, and robust consumer spending, Powell has indicated he has seen no reason to adjust the nation's current monetary course.

"The Fed says the current level of interest rates is ‘appropriate’ to support the economy," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "Translation: the Fed is on the sidelines and expects to be there for much or all of 2020."

Wednesday's decision underscores the Fed's belief that rates are currently low enough to grow an economy that has so far been insulated from any severe fallout from Trump's monthslong trade war with China and sluggish economic growth in countries such as Germany.

“The [FOMC] committee judges that the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective," according to a statement released Wednesday.