Fed faces rate-hiking dilemma

Banking sector jitters lead to calls for restraint but inflation still hasn’t gone away

The job of central bankers is getting tougher. The Federal Reserve has been trying – and failing – to slay inflation for some time. Fed chief Jerome Powell had been expected to demonstrate his hawkish credentials with a half-point rate hike this week but banking sector jitters means analysts now wonder if he will hike rates at all.

Rate-hiking cycles often near their end when things get broken; as they say on Wall Street when the Fed hits the brakes someone goes through the windshield.

Right now windshield damage is visible. Hence Goldman Sachs and Barclays want the Fed to pause. Nomura analysts go further, calling on the Fed to cut rates. However, the ECB last week defied calls to slow down, hiking rates 0.5 per cent.

Some US strategists want the Fed to follow suit. Inflation hasn’t gone away, they argue, and still needs to be tamed. The Fed is in an awkward spot. Not tightening risks inflation staying higher for longer; further tightening risks more things breaking, more windshield damage.

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O’Mahony, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes the weekly Stocktake column