Fed hits pause button on rates as Powell sees economy in ‘good place’

Fed Chair Jerome Powell expressed confidence that the level of rates and the economy itself were in a “good place” and said the recent cuts had “kept the outlook on track,” cushioning the U.S. economy against slowing global growth and trade tensions.

“Our economic outlook remains a favorable one despite global developments and ongoing risks,” he said at a press conference after the announcement. “With our decisions through the course of the past year, we believe that monetary policy is well-positioned to serve the American people.”

The central bank’s target borrowing rate is set between 1.5 percent and 1.75 percent.

Underlying today’s decision is the Fed’s projection that the U.S. economy will expand by 2 percent next year, which the central bank sees as a healthy level of growth.

The Fed in its post-meeting statement also said it’s monitoring inflation, which has been coming in below the central bank’s 2 percent target, something that means the central bank won’t be in a rush to increase rates anytime soon.

“In order to move rates up, I would want to see inflation that’s persistent and that’s significant,” Powell said.

Four officials among the 17 that sit on the Fed’s policy committee said another rate hike might be warranted next year if the economy continues on its current path, but the rest did not forecast any moves in 2020.

None of the officials projected another rate cut, though Powell said the central bank would step in with more support if economic growth takes a serious turn for the worse.

The most recent jobs report from the Labor Department bolstered the case for the Fed to hold back on any further moves, showing that the economy added 266,000 net jobs in November. But corporate investment has dropped over the last two quarters, and business optimism has continued to decrease in the face of trade tensions, which could become a bigger drag on the economy if it begins to dent still-strong consumer spending.

Executives have downgraded their expectations of how much they expect to invest in technology and hiring over the next six months, according to the latest quarterly survey by the Business Roundtable, which represents more than 200 CEOs of large companies.