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Federal Reserve Keeps Interest Rates Near Zero

rates-riseThe Federal Reserve decided on Thursday to keep the federal funds target rate at zero to 1/4 percent, where it has been for nine years, at the September meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).

"In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress—both realized and expected—toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation," the Fed said in a statement. "This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen some further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.

Fed Chairman Janet Yellen has stated repeatedly that sufficient economic growth, particularly in the labor market, needed to occur before the Fed could raise rates. The Fed issued a statement after the July FOMC meeting saying that "To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate."

"In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress—both realized and expected—toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation."

According to the August 2015 Employment Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 173,000 jobs were added during August as the unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent and the number of unemployed persons fell to 8 million, declines of 1 percentage point and 1.5 million people year-over-year, respectively. The average hourly wage jumped by 8 cents up to $25.09, a 2.2 percent year-over-year increase. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the nation's real GDP grew by 3.7 percent for its second estimate for Q2, way ahead of expectations.

Fannie Mae SVP and Chief Economist Doug Duncan said in early September after the BLS issued the August 2015 Employment Summary that, "We continue to call for a September lift-off, with a one-and-done hike this year on the way to normalizing monetary policy going forward." Trulia Chief Economist Selma Hepp said she believed the Fed was unlikely to raise rates in September, stating that "While the U.S. job market is in its third year of robust growth, the Fed is taking a broader and more comprehensive approach in making their decision. Recent stock market volatility as well as slowing economic growth abroad will be major factors, as will the U.S. economy’s persistent improvement."

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors Federal Reserve System

Janet Yellen,
Chair of the Board of Governors
Federal Reserve System

The debate over whether it was time to raise rates as intensified in the last month as economic volatility in China has caused turbulence in the U.S. stock market in August. New York Fed president Bill Dudley said that a rate increase in September seemed "less compelling" following turbulent stock market activity. Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, however, advocated for a raise in rates, saying he was "always open to listening to my colleagues in the meeting," and that he was "going in (to the September FOMC meeting) with an open mind." St. Louis Fed president James Bullard said in early September that he thought the U.S. central bank was in “good shape” to raise rates and that the chances of such an increase are greater than 50 percent despite recent volatility in the stock market.

Even with a rate increase, however, Hepp said "Any increases will be modest and gradual" which means "the actual impact on homebuyers will be minimal." First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming said of a potential rate increase that "The housing market isn’t doomed to fail, but rather adjust to the reality of interest rates that are reflective of a strengthening economy and certainly more traditional financial conditions.  Is the housing market doomed? No, but the housing market will modestly adjust to a Fed rate increase.”

About Author: Seth Welborn

Seth Welborn is a Harding University graduate with a degree in English and a minor in writing. He is a contributing writer for MReport. An East Texas Native, he has studied abroad in Athens, Greece and works part-time as a photographer.
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