Fed to cut US rates ‘at some point, but no hurry, Mester says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 6:06 PM

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said on Wednesday she expects price pressures to ease further this year, allowing the Fed to reduce borrowing costs, but only when it is “pretty confident” inflation is heading sustainably to its 2% goal.

“At some point, as we get more confidence, we will start to normalize policy back to a less restrictive stance, but we don’t have to do that in a hurry,” Mester said.

Inflation so far this year has run higher than expected, she said, with the personal consumption expenditures price index running at 2.5%, and core PCE – which the Fed uses to gauge where inflation is heading – at near 3% over the last six months on an annualized basis.

“Sometimes things don’t cooperate; we just have to sort of be watchful here, and wait until the economy shows itself about where we are,” she said. And with the labor market strong – unemployment was 3.8% in March – and U.S. economic growth solid, the Fed has time to wait for more information before making any move, she said.

Mester’s comments mark a retreat from her expectation just two weeks ago that the Fed will likely begin cutting the policy rate from its current 5.25%-5% range “later this year.”

Other Fed officials have made similar rhetorical pivots away from guidance on the timing of rate cuts, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday signaling rates may stay higher for longer.

Financial markets have gotten the message. Traders of futures contracts tied to the Fed’s policy rate are now pricing a first rate cut in September, with only about a 50-50 chance of one more quarter-point cut before the end of this year.

Just a few weeks ago, three rate cuts was the dominant expectation, both in markets and among both Fed policymakers and outside analysts.

Mester has a vote on U.S. monetary policy this year until the Fed’s mid-June meeting, after which she will leave her post under the central bank’s mandatory retirement rules. A successor has not been named.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang)