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Federal Reserve expected to pause monthslong string of rate hikes

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(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Reserve is expected to pause its aggressive series of interest rate hikes on Wednesday, ending a string of 10 consecutive rate increases that stretches back 15 months.

The decision arrives a day after fresh data showed consumer prices rose 4% last month compared to a year ago, cooling more than economists expected and bolstering hopes that inflation will continue its steady return to normal levels.

Inflation has fallen significantly from a peak last summer but remains at a level double the Federal Reserve’s target of 2%.

The slowdown of price increases has coincided with a sharp escalation of the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate last seen in the 1980s.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect the Federal Reserve to pause rate hikes on Wednesday as it assesses the ongoing effect of its previous policy decisions.

For more than a year, the Federal Reserve has aimed to roll back price increases by slowing down the economy and slashing consumer demand.

Data released in recent months suggests that the policy approach has succeeded in slowing economic activity.

U.S. gross domestic product grew by a sluggish 1.1% annualized rate over the three months ending in March, according to government data.

Meanwhile, three of the nation’s 30 largest banks failed over a weekslong stretch beginning in March.

While high interest rates contributed to the collapses, each of the banks also retained a sizable portion of uninsured depositors, who tend to panic without a government backstop for their funds.

Consumer spending and hiring, however, have remained solid, fueling hope among some economists that policymakers can succeed in dialing back inflation while averting a recession.

A jobs report earlier this month showed that the labor market grew robustly in May, adding 339,000 jobs compared to Wall Street estimates of just 195,000.

Since the economy continues to exhibit strength, the expected Federal Reserve decision to pause rate hikes marks a “close call,” Bank of America said in a research note last week.

“While incoming data point to resilience in activity and stickiness in inflation, the Fed appears to desire additional time to monitor policy lags and regional bank stress,” Bank of America said.

“We do not believe the Fed is close to signaling a prolonged pause,” the bank added. “Instead, we expect the Fed to say that inaction in June is more akin to a skip — for now.”

Upon the announcement of the central bank’s most recent rate hike last month, Fed Chair Jerome Powell noted the removal of a sentence that appeared in the Fed’s previous rate hike announcement that said “some additional policy increases might be appropriate.”

Powell described the omission in the announcement as “meaningful,” saying a decision about any additional rate hikes would be “data dependent.”

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