A steady rise in inflation pushed the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to lift interest rates, triggering financial markets to shrug but consumers to gear up for a more expensive life.
The economic indicator largely responsible for the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates is the consumer price index. This monthly report measures the fluctuations in cost for everything from frankfurters to used cars, and rose just 0.1% from January to February, a drop from the previous month-over-month uptick of 0.6%. But, overall prices are up 2.7% from the same time last year – the biggest annual increase in four years.
The so-called core consumer price index, which subtracts the erratic prices of food and energy from the mix, rose 2.2% for the year. Energy costs, mostly due to a dip in gas prices, dropped 1% in February, but soared a whopping 15.2% from the same time last year.
Because inflation is gaining steam and employment continues to grow, the Fed’s chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, raised interest rates 0.25 percent points to a range between 0.75% and 1%. At a press conference about the March rate hike, a reporter asked Yellen what the move should signal to consumers.
Yellen replied: “The simple message is the economy is doing well.”
But when the Fed makes lending money more expensive, both businesses and consumers usually feel it. This go around, financial markets tuned out the interest rate hike amid a laser-focus on Trump’s promise to deliver them the lowest corporate tax rate since Ronald Reagan.
“Rate increases are often bad for markets,” said Josh Olson, a senior analyst at Edward Jones Investments, “but you’re seeing a positive reaction. The market is looking right past it.”
People in the market are anticipating a corporate tax rate comparable to other countries known for their low taxation.
“The prospect of the United States falling into line with more overseas practices is really the sugar rush behind the Trump rally,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics.
Consumers, however, have reasons to be less cavalier about the federal-funds hike. Annual interest rates on credit cards will rise, the cost of car loans will inch up and mortgages will get pricier.
“Nobody likes it and nobody is used to it,” said a mortgage broker in Las Vegas, Dennis Scarberry, about the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates.
People are hurrying to buy houses now to get ahead of future Fed raises, he said. More than half of people currently shopping for a house say they factor in rising interest rates in their decision on whether or not to purchase, according to a Zillow survey.
“The market is as ripe as it’s going to be,” Scarberry said. “I don’t see anything getting cheaper for awhile – if ever.”
That interest rates remain at historical lows means little to consumers who’re preoccupied with the present.
“It doesn’t matter the level from which the increase comes, it can cause damage,” said Lou Barnes, a mortgage broker in Boulder, Colorado. “It will crimp consumers’ budget.”
In addition, if the House Republicans proposal for a border tax goes into effect, consumers will start seeing prices go up at stores that sell and use products from outside America.
But, back in the financial markets, the future is bright.
“Right now it’s politics more than data,” said Joseph Lavorgana, the chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank Securities.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.
Though, some people in the market are getting a little antsy waiting.
“I had hoped it would be a priority,” Ryding said, “but clearly it hasn’t been.”
Instead, Trump has been working on his immigration ban and repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act – two promises that are proving difficult for him to materialize.
“The market is expecting a big cut,” Ryding repeated, “and we’ll be very disappointed if this doesn’t come through.”