The US Federal Reserve, as expected, kept interest rates unchanged during its first policy meeting of 2020 on Wednesday.
Since the Fed cut rates in October, its third and final reduction in borrowing costs in 2019, policymakers have agreed to keep their target policy rate in the current range of 1.5% and 1.75% until there is some significant change in the economic outlook.
Economic data since the Fed’s last policy meeting in December has done little to shift expectations for continued economic growth this year of around 2% and steady, low unemployment.
However, risks have emerged recently, such as China’s slowing economic growth and the coronavirus outbreak, which has roiled the markets and caused US Treasury bond yields to fall.
“It’s a serious issue (coronavirus). There is likely to be some disruption of activity in China and probably globally,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters, unprompted, in a news conference. “We’ll just have to wait to see what the effect is globally.”
While investors have increased bets the Fed would cut rates again at some point in 2020, analysts still are nearly unanimous that any such decision is months down the road.
Out of 108 economists polled by Reuters recently, 95 said they expected the Fed to leave rates on hold at this week’s meeting, and JP Morgan analyst Michael Feroli said it would likely be “one of the least eventful meetings in recent years.”
Fed’s balance sheet
The focus now shifts to the central bank’s balance sheet. Over the last four months, the Fed has re-expanded its asset holdings by almost $400 billion as it eats up about $60 billion a month in Treasury bills.
Powell has said those asset purchases would continue at least through the second quarter of this year.
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