Fed chairman hints at first interest rate cut in over a decade

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Federal Reserve Fed chairman hints at first interest rate cut in over a decade

Shares on Wall Street rose on the comments, with the S&P 500 briefly hitting a new record as it moved above 3,000 for the first time

Jerome Powell speaks at a conference in Chicago, Illinois, on 4 June. Photograph: Kiichiro Sato/AP

The US looks increasingly likely to cut interest rates for the first time in over a decade, the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, hinted on Wednesday.

“Many” Fed officials now believe a weakening global economy and rising trade tensions have strengthened the case for a rate cut, Powell wrote in a report released ahead of his appearance before Congress.

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Since Fed officials met last month, when they decided to hold rates steady, “uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the US economic outlook”, he wrote.

Shares on Wall Street rose on the comments, with the S&P 500 briefly hitting a new record as it moved above 3,000 for the first time, while the Dow Jones and Nasdaq also posted increases.

Powell has been under immense pressure from Donald Trump to cut rates. “Our most difficult problem is not our competitors, it is the Federal Reserve!” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month, the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the independence of the Fed by a sitting president.

Asked whether he would leave if Trump told him to go, Powell once again said he would not and that he intends to serve his four year term.

The Fed started cutting rates in August 2007 as the last recession swept the world. Rates remained close to zero for years. As the economy recovered the central bank began slowly raising rates. The Fed has raised rates nine times since 2015, four increases coming under Powell’s leadership.

Trump has pushed hard for cuts in the hope of boosting economic growth further. But with unemployment at close to record lows and the US economy showing continued strength, the Fed left rates unchanged at it’s last meeting.

But the ongoing trade wars and signs of trouble in markets outside the US appear to have convinced more Fed members that there is now a case for cutting rates.

Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC bank, said there were sound economic reasons for a cut. “I think this would be on the merits. Obviously it is complicated by the fact that the president has called for rate cut but we still see indications that uncertainty is starting to be a drag on the economy,” he said.

Investors expect the Fed will cut its benchmark rate, currently in a range between 2.25% and 2.5%, by a quarter percentage point at its 30-31 July meeting.

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