The Fed’s patient outlook is predicated on the assumption that the economy, helped along by lower rates that are fueling the housing market, will continue to grow at a moderate pace. Risks from trade could re-emerge, however, if talks between the United States and China break down and tensions reignite.
Mr. Trump has given mixed signals about whether he wants to strike a deal with China, and if any of his tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese goods will be removed. Asked what could spur the Fed into renewed action at an event on Tuesday, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pointed to global risks.
“Are global factors or other things causing the U.S. economy to slow more than expected, and slow below trend growth on an ongoing basis?” said the New York Fed president, John C. Williams. “That would be an argument for somewhat more accommodation.”
While they plan to take a break from lowering rates, officials are not inclined to start lifting them soon assuming price increases remain muted.
Unemployment, currently at 3.6 percent, is hovering near a 50-year low, wage growth has been increasing at a moderate pace and companies have been slow to lift prices. That has kept inflation below the central bank’s 2 percent goal.
“The reason why we raise interest rates, generally, is because we see inflation as moving up, or in danger of moving up significantly,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at a news conference after the October move. “We really don’t see that now.”
Weak price increases may be good news for shoppers, but they pose a risk for the central bank. If inflation is mired at low levels for an extended period, expectations for future price changes can drift lower, locking in the muted increases. That leaves the Fed with less room to cut interest rates in a recession, since interest rates include inflation.