Decision time approaches for the US Federal Reserve. It’s been a long time coming.
Yet for all the months of anticipation, and the acres of column inches the decision has already attracted, it will be no less momentous an event. If the Open Market Committee takes the plunge, it will be the first US rate hike in nearly 10 years.
For much of this time, rates have remained close to zero. Admittedly, a rise of just 0.25 percentage points would, to most people, seem neither here nor there. Yet it would at least be a start, a first baby step on the long march back to interest rate normalisation – if not the relatively high real rates of interest we had before the crisis. Few think global demand will allow for this latter prospect for a long time to come.
You can argue it both ways. With unemployment down to little more than 5pc, and continued economic growth now hard-baked into the system to judge by the recent money supply data, the case for action is a relatively strong one. In my view the Fed has already left it too long. True, headline inflation remains very subdued, but this gives a somewhat misleading impression. Low prices are mainly an energy and commodity-based story. Core inflation, excluding these variable items, has been hitting 1.8pc for nearly a year now.