Fed Leaves Interest Rates Unchanged, Seems To Signal Continued Gradual Interest Rate Increases For Rest Of 2018

As expected by the financial markets, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged at today’s meeting of the Open Market Committee.

As expected the Fed didn’t really clarify its stance on inflation and interest rate increases, acknowledging that inflation is close to target without indicating any intention to veer from their gradual tightening of monetary policy. The Fed did note that inflation looks to be running near the central bank’s 2% target rate–which would imply more and perhaps faster interest rate increases–but it left open the possibility that it might be willing to let inflation creep over 2% in the short run and for a short period of time.

“Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to run near the committee’s symmetric 2% objective over the medium term,” the Fed said in its statement today. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate.”

Financial markets immediately jumped on the only significant change in the Fed’s statement–the addition of “symmetric” as evidence that the central bank might be willing to let inflation run higher than 2%.

As the end of the day approached, and enlightenment remained elusive, stocks dipped with the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index closing off 0.72%, down from the 0.55% loss at 3:30 p.m. New York time.

Oil continued its move higher with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate closing up 0.71% today at $67.33 a barrel.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury moved up one basis point to 2.98%. The yield on the 2-year Treasury climbed 3 basis points to 2.49%. (The 2-year Treasury tends to be more sensitive to interest rate moves by the Fed than longer term Treasuries.)

The move in yields may be a reaction to the release of a new schedule for Treasury debt sales. The Treasury Department will boost the amount of long-term debt it sells to $73 billion this quarter. The Treasury will sell $31 billion in three-year notes on May 8, versus $30 billion it sold last month and $26 billion in February. The government will increase the sale of 10-year notes to $25 billion from $24 billion last quarter, and of 30-year bonds to $17 billion from $16 billion. Both issues will be auctioned next week.