Fed points to December rate hike but is worried about tariffs and debt

Federal Reserve officials teed up a December rate hike at their most recent meeting, but not without misgivings about how trade tensions and corporate debt could impact growth.

Minutes released Thursday from the Nov. 7-8 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates, pointed toward the strong likelihood of another quarter-point adjustment in the central bank’s benchmark rate target next month.

That’s in line with market thinking despite the recent volatility.

“Consistent with their judgment that a gradual approach to policy normalization remained appropriate, almost all participants expressed the view that another increase in the target range for the federal funds rate was likely to be warranted fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations,” the minutes stated.

However, the meeting summary also noted some concern about the “timing” of rate hikes. Current projections indicate that in addition to the December move, the FOMC is likely to approve three more hikes in 2019.

Moreover, officials indicated that further post-meeting statements might be altered to remove the reference to “further gradual increases” in the target range as long as current conditions persist. The reason for doing that is to stress that the committee is not on a preset course with rates and instead will be evaluating future decisions based on incoming economic data.

“Such a change would help to convey the Committee’s flexible approach in responding to changing economic circumstances,” the minutes said.

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