Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks at a policy panel at the 24th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, hosted by the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 9, 2023. Federal Reserve photo

As expected, the Federal Reserve did not reduce the benchmark lending rate at its meeting yesterday, maintaining the rate at a 23-year high.

Fed President Jerome Powell said in his remarks that inflation reports proved higher than expected, but still under control, indicating that the current rate will remain in effect.

The Fed’s recent aggressive rate hikes have had a profound effect on the housing market, bringing mortgage interest rates to their highest points in more than 20 years. The higher rates have helped contribute to a housing market that has ground nearly to a halt.

There are several scenarios that could result in a rate cut, he said, and a rate hike is highly unlikely. A consistently strong economy and continued contained inflation will likely result in the Fed simply holding off on cutting rates, but Powell added that an “unexpected weakening in the labor market” could bring the first cut.

The most recent report from the Labor Department on Wednesday found that U.S. job openings fell to a three-year low in March. Employees posted 8.5 million vacancies in March, down from 8.8 million in February. Still, those figures are historically low; prior to 2021, openings had never exceeded 8 million.

Economists, and the Fed, expect inflation and the U.S. economy as a whole to cool in the second half of the year.

A recording of Powell’s remarks is available here.