Deciding how quickly to remove policy support is a fraught exercise. Central bankers are hoping to move decisively enough to arrest the pop in prices without curbing growth so aggressively that they tip the economy into a deep downturn.
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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
Mr. Powell nodded to that balancing act, saying, “I do expect that this will be very challenging — it’s not going to be easy.” But he said the economy had a good chance “to have a soft, or soft-ish, landing.”
He later elaborated that it could be possible to “restore price stability without a recession, without a severe downturn, and without materially higher unemployment.”
The balance sheet plan the Fed released on Wednesday matched what analysts had expected, which probably also contributed to the sense of market calm. The Fed will begin shrinking its nearly $9 trillion in asset holdings in June by allowing Treasury and mortgage-backed debt to mature without reinvestment. It will ultimately let up to $60 billion in Treasury debt expire each month, along with $35 billion in mortgage-backed debt, and the plan will have phased in fully as of September.
By reducing its bond holdings, the Fed is likely to take steam out of financial markets — bond prices will fall, causing yields to rise, and riskier investments like stocks will become less attractive. It also could help to cool the housing market by pushing up longer-term borrowing costs, which follow bond yields, reinforcing the effect of the central bank’s interest rate increases.
In fact, mortgage rates have already begun to push higher, climbing nearly two percentage points since the start of the year. The rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.1 percent for the week that ended last Thursday, according to Freddie Mac, touching its highest level in more than a decade.
The Fed’s moves “will quickly make financing big-ticket purchases more challenging.” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive, wrote in a research note after the meeting. “This is exactly what the Fed wants to see. As demand for homes, cars and other durables declines in response to declining affordability, the rate of price increases should slow as well.”