Fed slashes rates to record low, zero to 0.25%

The Federal Reserve aggressively lowered its benchmark federal funds rate to a range of between zero percent and 0.25%, and said it would "employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth."

Slashing the overnight lending rate by such a degree was an unexpected Fed move. Most everyone had expected a 0.5% cut from its prior 1%. The rate is now at its lowest level since the government started keeping records in 1954.

"It’s a highly unorthodox and creative step," Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist, at the Bank of New York-Mellon in New York told Reuters. "We think it’s the best possible move for the U.S. consumer and for the financial market."

The announcement was made by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), who released the following statement:

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to establish a target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent. 

Since the Committee’s last meeting, labor market conditions have deteriorated, and the available data indicate that consumer spending, business investment, and industrial production have declined.  Financial markets remain quite strained and credit conditions tight.  Overall, the outlook for economic activity has weakened further.

Meanwhile, inflationary pressures have diminished appreciably.  In light of the declines in the prices of energy and other commodities and the weaker prospects for economic activity, the Committee expects inflation to moderate further in coming quarters.

The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability.  In particular, the Committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time. 

The focus of the Committee’s policy going forward will be to support the functioning of financial markets and stimulate the economy through open market operations and other measures that sustain the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet at a high level.  As previously announced, over the next few quarters the Federal Reserve will purchase large quantities of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities to provide support to the mortgage and housing markets, and it stands ready to expand its purchases of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities as conditions warrant.  The Committee is also evaluating the potential benefits of purchasing longer-term Treasury securities.  Early next year, the Federal Reserve will also implement the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses.  The Federal Reserve will continue to consider ways of using its balance sheet to further support credit markets and economic activity.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; Christine M. Cumming; Elizabeth A. Duke; Richard W. Fisher; Donald L. Kohn; Randall S. Kroszner; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Gary H. Stern; and Kevin M. Warsh. (Unanimous.)

The fed funds rate is used to set rates for a wide variety of consumer loans, including home equity lines, credit cards and many business loans.

Low rates can feed inflation, which the U.S. was battling in July when inflation had grown at its fastest pace in 17 years. However, with drastically falling energy prices, inflationary pressures have greatly eased with consumer prices falling a record 1.7%, according to Tuesday’s report by the Labor Department.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is set for January 27-28.

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