Still, as of the May meeting, “most participants judged that 50 basis point increases in the target range would likely be appropriate at the next couple of meetings,” according to the minutes.
What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
Fed officials have made clear that they will do what it takes to tame inflation, which hit 8.5 percent in the United States last month, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, is also rising, though not as rapidly, climbing by 6.6 percent in March compared with a year ago.
While the Fed and many outside economists had expected prices to ease in 2021 as the economy reopened and snarled supply chains returned to more normal operations, that has not happened. Instead, prices have continued to rise, broadening to categories including food, rent and gas. China’s ongoing Covid lockdowns and the war in Ukraine have only exacerbated price increases for goods, food and fuel.
But as rates increase, the Federal Reserve will be watching keenly for signs that the trajectory of the economy is beginning to change. Data released Tuesday showed new home sales falling 16.6 percent in April from the month earlier, a sign that more expensive borrowing costs may be cooling the housing market. Surveys by S&P Global on Tuesday also pointed to slowing activity at service businesses in the United States and elsewhere, and continued supply chain disruptions at global factories.
Data released after the Federal Reserve’s May meeting showed the yearly pace at which prices are increasing moderated somewhat in April, but inflation rates are still uncomfortably rapid. The overarching question for the Fed is whether policymakers will be able to slow the economy enough to temper inflation without spurring a recession, which Mr. Powell and his colleagues have repeatedly acknowledged is likely to be a challenge. While Fed officials said their goal for now is to move policy back to a “neutral” stance, they may need to go beyond that if conditions deteriorate, essentially hitting the brakes on the economy, rather than just easing off the gas.
Participants “noted that a restrictive stance of policy may well become appropriate depending on the evolving economic outlook and the risks to the outlook,” according to the minutes.
“There are huge events, geopolitical events going on around the world, that are going to play a very important role in the economy in the next year or so,” Mr. Powell said last week. “So the question whether we can execute a soft landing or not, it may actually depend on factors that we don’t control.”