Fed sees case for rate hikes in strong economy despite Trump barbs, trade tensions

Fed sees case for rate hikes in strong economy despite Trump barbs, trade tensions
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The Federal Reserve is likely to move ahead with planned interest rate hikes despite criticism from President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE and the potential economic damage of mounting trade tensions, according to notes released Wednesday from the central bank’s July meeting.

Members of the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC), the Fed’s monetary policymaking board, expressed confidence that a growing economy would continue to justify increasing federal interest rates toward historic neutral levels, according to minutes from its July 31 to August 1 meeting.

Fed officials warned that a prolonged trade war could damage the U.S. economy and said they had continued to see signs of delayed expansion as firms braced for higher costs. But overall, they were optimistic that the U.S. would enjoy strong growth throughout 2018, citing rising inflation and strong jobs and manufacturing data received earlier.

“Members expected that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term,” read the notes.

The meeting was the FOMC’s first since Trump criticized Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues for raising interest rates, which increases the costs of borrowing to slow down the economy.

The Fed has raised interest rates seven times since 2015 and five times since Trump took office in an effort to gradually bring monetary policy back toward non-stimulative levels. The president is one of few Republicans who has expressed opposition to interest rate hikes, which supporters say are essential to keep prices stable and financial markets free of dangerous bubbles.

Trump renewed his criticism Monday, telling Reuters he was “not thrilled” with Powell, who he appointed to lead the Fed and that the bank should do “what’s good for the country” by holding off on rate hikes.

Powell has largely ignored Trump’s criticism and says he feels no pressure from him or the White House to hold off on rate hikes. The Fed has raised rates twice since Powell took over in February, and is expected to do so again in September and December.

Fed officials expected to follow through on their projections of two additional rate hikes with unemployment close to record lows and economic growth eclipsing 4 percent of GDP in the second quarter.

While Fed officials were confident in the overall state of the economy, they discussed rising concerns among U.S. businesses that trade tensions could pose serious risks to continued growth.

Trump has imposed tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, and Chinese goods, spurring retaliatory taxes from key trading partners on U.S. agricultural exports. The ensuing battle has dragged down the price of American crops and left U.S. manufacturers scrambling to handle rising materials costs.

Fed officials said the trade tensions hadn’t severely stunted the growth of the economy yet, but could do so if they continued for much longer.

“Most businesses concerned about trade disputes had not yet cut back their capital expenditures or hiring but might do so if trade tensions were not resolved soon,” the minutes read.

“If a large-scale and prolonged dispute over trade policies developed, there would likely be adverse effects on business sentiment, investment spending, and employment.”