Fed Announces Rate Cut
July 31, 2019
For the first time since December 2008, the Federal Reserve has announced a rate cut.
In a statement issued by the central bank’s policymaking Federal Open Market Committee, it was announced that the Fed “decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 2 to 2-1/4 percent. This action supports the Committee's view that sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective are the most likely outcomes, but uncertainties about this outlook remain.”
The Fed also left open the possibility that more rate cuts were possible in the near future.
“As the Committee contemplates the future path of the target range for the federal funds rate, it will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective,” the Fed statement added.
The FOMC vote came with two dissenters, Esther George of the Kansas City Fed and Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed, and it was the first rate cut in nearly 11 years. The decision comes after weeks of seemingly endless criticism of the central bank by President Trump, who blamed the Fed in general and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in particular for holding back the growth of the U.S. economy by not cutting rates. Powell hinted that a rate cut was possible in testimony delivered earlier this month before Congress, but he would not commit to a specific timetable. On Monday, the president’s latest criticism of the Fed blamed it for allowing the nation’s trade rivals to have an edge over their U.S. counterparts.
“The E.U. and China will further lower interest rates and pump money into their systems, making it much easier for their manufacturers to sell product,” he tweeted. “In the meantime, and with very low inflation, our Fed does nothing—and probably will do very little by comparison. Too bad!”
Mike Fratantoni, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, questioned the impact of the rate cut on the economy.
"In an effort to insure against a further slowdown in the economy, the FOMC voted today to cut their target rate by 25 basis points, and also moved to halt the shrinking of their balance sheet in August rather than this fall," he said. "The rate cut was clearly telegraphed in advance, and was fully priced into mortgage rates. However, the Fed continues to try to interpret conflicting signals from the economic data. Globally, growth continues to weaken, as trade tensions persist. On the other hand, in the U.S., job market and consumer spending data remain strong, and inflation ticked up a bit in June. Given these mixed signals, it was not surprising that there were dissenting votes in favor of keeping rates on hold at this meeting. The statement signaled that the Fed will continue to be data dependent, and that this cut does not lock them into a path of future rate cuts, but we expect they will cut rates once more this year and once in 2020. By that point, this period of weakness in global growth should have passed."
Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist at the National Association of Realtors, saw some real estate-related benefits to the rate cut.
"Many borrowers will benefit, especially those with adjustable-rate mortgages and commercial real estate loans," Yun said. "The longer term 30-year fixed rate mortgages will see little change in the near future because they had already declined in anticipation of this latest move by the Fed. These low interest rates will partly help with housing affordability over the short term. Both rents and home prices have been consistently outpacing income growth. The only way to mitigate housing costs challenges as a long term solution is to bring more supply of both multifamily and single-family homes to the market."
Danielle Hale, Chief Economist at Realtor.com, observed, "It's unlikely that today’s cut will lead to a large additional drop in longer term rates such as mortgage rates, because it was so broadly anticipated. But one factor that may put downward pressure on rates is an earlier end to the Fed’s balance sheet unwinding, which is now planned for August, two months earlier than previously expected. As to whether additional rate cuts will be on the horizon, the Fed more clearly expressed a desire to look not just at current conditions, but changes to the outlook, which opens the door to additional cuts. Today’s decision was not unanimous, though. With two dissenting voices, the bar for additional cuts may be higher. Homebuyers can enjoy today's low rates but undoubtedly will feel less urgency than last year’s buyers now that costly rate rises are pretty unlikely."
Barry Habib, CEO of MBS Highway, noted that Powell’s statement that the Fed considered the cut as a ‘midcycle adjustment’ was “being interpreted as a one and done deal. So, the market didn’t like that, and stocks really sold off and mortgage bonds really sold off.” Habib added that Powell quickly clarified that observation and “the markets kind of breathed a sigh of relief.”
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