Fed Keeps Foot On Rate-Hike Pedal

Happy Thursday! On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Members of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee voted Wednesday to approve a 50-basis-point interest rate, raising the central bank’s target federal funds rate to a range between 4.25 percent and 4.5 percent—the highest level in 15 years. The Fed officials opted against a fifth consecutive 75-basis-point hike with multiple economic indicators pointing to slowing inflation, but Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters in a post-announcement press conference the central bank doesn’t plan to ease up as quickly as markets assumed. “The inflation data received so far for October and November show a welcome reduction in the monthly pace of price increases,” he said. “But it will take substantially more evidence to give confidence that inflation is on a sustained downward path.” Stocks fell on the news.
  • United Nations member states voted 29-8 on Wednesday—with at least 16 countries abstaining—to oust Iran from the body’s Commission on the Status of Women for “the remainder of its 2022-2026 term,” citing Tehran’s crackdown on protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody that have rocked the country since September. Iran’s U.N. ambassador decried the move—which was proposed by the United States—as “illegal,” arguing it could set a “dangerous precedent” with “far-reaching consequences.”
  • The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation by unanimous consent that—if advanced in the House and signed into law by President Joe Biden—would prohibit the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok from being downloaded on most government-owned phones or electronic devices, citing privacy and data security concerns. A similar measure has previously passed the Senate only to stall out in the House, but a number of states—including Iowa, Alabama, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah—have implemented bans of their own in recent weeks.
  • With COVID-19 infections skyrocketing throughout China as the country’s stringent “zero COVID” restrictions are lifted, Pfizer reportedly reached a deal with a Chinese healthcare platform to sell Paxlovid—the company’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment—in the retail market for the first time. China, which has continued to refuse the West’s mRNA vaccines, approved Paxlovid for use earlier this year—but only through hospital systems and for high-risk patients.

Inflation Data Still Good-Not-Great

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting this week. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images.)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s even-keeled demeanor behind a press conference podium Wednesday belied the high stakes game of chicken the central bank is playing these days—one that threatens to drive us into an economic ditch next year to avoid the still-looming threat of persistent inflation.

“Inflation data received so far for October and November show a welcome reduction in the monthly pace of price increases,” Powell told gathered reporters. “But it will take substantially more evidence to give confidence that inflation is on a sustained downward path.”

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) isn’t the Fed’s preferred inflation measure—that honor goes to the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index—but this week’s CPI reading came in much better than expected. Prices climbed 7.1 percent year-over-year in November, down from a 7.7 percent annual rate in October and marking the measure’s fifth consecutive month of decline since it peaked in June at 9.1 percent. Month-over-month, inflation rose 0.1 percent—just 1.2 percent annualized—down from 0.4 percent month-over-month growth in October. And core inflation, calculated by stripping out the CPI’s more volatile food and energy categories, delivered its lowest increase since August 2021.

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