The Fed has slowed its rate hikes. What does that mean for you?

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If you borrow money or invest in stocks, it’s still not great news

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (OMC) concluded its latest meeting by raising its federal funds rate by another 0.25%. It was the eighth straight increase as the Fed tries to rein in inflation.

While Wall Street expected the quarter-point increase it was hoping the policymakers would signal they are getting close to ending their rate hikes. They didn’t. In a statement, the Fed signaled there are probably more rate increases to come.

“The Committee anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2% over time,” the OMC said in its statement.

Translated, that means the Fed isn’t happy that unemployment remains low, even though it acknowledges that inflation has eased a bit. Therefore, the federal funds rate will float between 4.5% and 4.75% and could go even higher after the Fed meets in March and May.

“Today, according to the CME’s FedWatch Tool, the probability of a 25-basis point rate increase at the next Fed meeting in March is 85%,” Robert R. Johnson, PhD, CFA, CAIA, a business professor at Creighton University,” told ConsumerAffairs. “And, there is a 37% chance of an additional 25 basis point hike in May. Having said that, this Fed is very data-dependent and the data will determine the Fed’s actions.”

What it could mean for you

If you borrow money or invest in the stock market, it’s not good news. The Fed controls the rate that banks pay when they borrow money. Each time it hikes rates, it costs more to finance a car or truck, and the interest rates on credit cards, already among the highest rates there are, go even higher.

“Credit card interest rates are already as high as they’ve been in decades,” said Matt Schulz of LendingTree. “While the Fed is taking its foot off the gas a bit when it comes to raising rates, credit card APRs almost certainly will keep climbing for at least the next few months, so it is important that cardholders continue to focus on knocking down their debt.”

Higher rates also tend to reduce stock valuations. While the stock market enjoyed a strong rally in January, February could prove to be a different story.

Investors often try to anticipate events and lately, traders have convinced themselves that the Fed was about finished with its rate tightening and might even cut rates in the second half of the year.

That said, after plunging when the Fed announced its decision Wednesday, stocks continued to rally on what were perceived as less-hawkish comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell during a news conference.

Santiago Guzman, co-founder and CEO at Cap8, says the current inflation is different from the past. He suggests things are not as dire as the Fed thinks.

“The drop in price increases will be faster than what the Fed expects, even without a significant increase in unemployment,” he told us. “This does not mean that the market does not believe the Fed, but rather that it bets it will change its mind once the downward path is confirmed, and the risk of being wrong twice comes from an over-tightening perspective.”

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