Fed Cuts Interest Rates For First Time Since The Recession The quarter-point cut signals growing concern at the Federal Reserve about a slowdown in the economy amid the trade war with China. The Fed last cut rates in 2008 and raised them as late as December.
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Fed Cuts Interest Rates For 1st Time Since 2008

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Fed Cuts Interest Rates For 1st Time Since 2008

Fed Cuts Interest Rates For 1st Time Since 2008

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates today for the first time in over a decade. The move is designed to give a boost to the slowing U.S. economy and extend the decade-long economic expansion. Although the Fed's action was widely telegraphed in advance, the stock market reacted negatively. Major indices fell more than 1%. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to explain the Fed action.

Welcome back to the studio.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: Scott, by most outward appearances, the U.S. economy seems to be in pretty good shape. We've got unemployment near a 50-year low. Employers have been hiring workers at a steady clip. Do I have that right? I mean, why did the Fed need to cut interest rates?

HORSLEY: We have seen some slowdown in economic growth. We learned last week that the economy grew at an annual rate of just 2.1% in the spring. That's down from 3.1% earlier this year. We've also seen a slowdown in manufacturing, partly because of the various trade tensions that are underway. We've also seen slower growth overseas.

With all that, though, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell did not characterize this rate cut as a rescue effort for an ailing economy. Rather, he described the economy as relatively healthy and said the Fed's cutting rates in an effort to keep it that way.

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JEROME POWELL: There really is no reason why the expansion can't keep going. Inflation is not troublingly high. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, there's no sector that's booming and, therefore, might bust.

HORSLEY: Ordinarily, when we have unemployment this low, we might expect to see the Fed raising rates to ward off inflation. And in fact, the Fed was doing that as recently as December. But inflation has stayed really low - in fact, too low as far as the Fed's concerned. So the central bank does have room to lean on the side of goosing the economy.

CORNISH: At the same time, the stock market fell. So what are the markets telling us?

HORSLEY: It's a little puzzling because, you know, the Fed did almost exactly what everyone was predicting it would do. At first, when the news broke, there was actually a little market reaction. It was while Powell was holding his news conference about a half-hour later that we saw a pretty rapid slide in the market.

Investors seemed to be unhappy with Powell's suggestion that the Fed might cut rates this one time and then be done when the market would like to see additional rate cuts. Powell did, however, backtrack a bit and left the door open for additional cuts if economic conditions warrant.

CORNISH: How did the president's comments figure into the Fed's decision? - because Trump has been agitating for a rate cut for months now.

HORSLEY: Right. The central bank insists it's not responding to the president's comments but rather to what's happening in the economy. But Powell also says he and his colleagues aren't going to hesitate to cut interest rates just because that's what the president's asked for, just to kind of show they're willing to stand up to Trump.

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POWELL: We never take into account political considerations. There's no place in our discussions for that. We also don't conduct monetary policy in order to prove our independence.

HORSLEY: The Fed is keeping an eye on what other central banks around the world are doing. The president's been complaining that other central banks are cutting their interest rates and giving a boost to their economies. And in Trump's mind, that comes at the expense of the U.S., so he's wanted the Fed to do the same.

Not everybody on the Fed's rate-setting committee was in agreement about today's rate cut. Two Fed officials voted to leave rates where they were.

CORNISH: In the end, what does this mean for ordinary Americans?

HORSLEY: This will mean slightly lower interest rates on things like car loans and credit cards. Mortgage rates, which tend to follow the bond market, have already fallen. So in a sense, the Fed's just sort of catching up to what's happening in the mortgage market.

Consumer spending does account for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so it's - this is an important leg of the economy that's being propped up here. But, you know, consumer spending was already pretty strong.

The weak spot in recent months has been business investment, so we'll have to see if this rate cut helps to stimulate business spending in a way that prolongs the expansion. Powell is determined to do that because he says there are a lot of Americans who are only now beginning to feel the fruits of economic growth, even though it's been underway for more than a decade.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

Scott, thanks for explaining it.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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