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WASHINGTON: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday approved its largest interest rate increase in more than a quarter of a century to stem a surge in inflation that U.S. central bank officials acknowledged may be eroding public trust in their power, and being driven by events seen increasingly out of their hands.
The widely expected move raised the target federal funds rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to a range of between 1.5% and 1.75%, still comparatively low by historic standards.
But the Fed's hawkish commitment to controlling inflation has already touched off a broad tightening of credit conditions being felt in U.S. housing and stock markets, and likely to slow demand throughout the economy - the Fed's intent.
Officials also envision steady rate increases through the rest of this year, perhaps including additional 75-basis-point hikes, with a federal funds rate at 3.4% at year's end. That would be the highest level since January 2008 and enough, Fed projections show, to slow the economy markedly in coming months and lead to a rise in unemployment.
"We don't seek to put people out of work," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference after the end of the Fed's latest two-day policy meeting, adding that the central bank was "not trying to induce a recession."
Yet the Fed chief's remarks were among his most sobering yet about the challenge he and his fellow policymakers face in lowering inflation from its current 40-year high, to a level closer to its 2% target, without a sharp slowdown in economic growth or a steep rise in unemployment.
"Our objective really is to bring inflation down to 2% while the labor market remains strong... What's becoming more clear is that many factors that we don't control are going to play a very significant role in deciding whether that's possible or not" Powell said, citing the war in Ukraine and global supply concerns.
"There is a path for us to get there... It is not getting easier. It is getting more challenging," he told reporters, noting that the rate hikes announced last month and in March so far had not only failed to slow inflation, but allowed it to continue accelerating to a level that recent data indicates have begun to influence public attitudes in a way that could make the Fed's job even harder.
A survey released on Friday showed consumer inflation expectations jumped sharply in June, a result Powell called "quite eye-catching," and enough to tilt policymakers towards a larger 75-basis-point hike in hopes of making faster progress on the inflation front and retaining public trust that price increases will slow.