Federal Reserve bows to bank-crisis fears with quarter-point rate hike, letting up a little in its fight against inflation

Joerg Bibow, Professor of Economics, Skidmore College, Marketa Wolfe, Associate Professor of Economics, Skidmore College, and Jeffery S. Bredthauer, Associate Professor Of Finance, Banking and Real Estate,, University of Nebraska Omaha, The Conversation on

Published in Business News

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter-point on March 22, 2023, bowing to market expectations that it would temper its aggressive program of rate hikes amid a still-brewing banking crisis.

The U.S. central bank lifted rates to a range of 4.75% to 5%, its eighth straight increase since March 2022. As late as early March 2023, it appeared that the Fed was planning to resume last year’s full-throttle rate-hiking campaign after slowing down in February. But the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10 forced the central bank to take a step back.

So what does the Fed’s announcement tell us about where monetary policymakers think the economy – and inflation – are heading? A team of economists and finance scholars have weighed in to help make sense of it all.

Jeffery S. Bredthauer, University of Nebraska Omaha

This muted rate hike signals that the Fed is being cautious in order to steady the financial sector, which has been struggling since the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10, 2023. But the fact that the Fed raised rates at all acknowledges that the fight against inflation will need to continue.

While still an increase, it’s more of a pause, in my view, because until the recent banking turmoil, the central bank was expected to lift rates by a half-point. Inflation has remained stubbornly elevated even though the Fed had jacked up rates 4.5 percentage points before the latest hike, and Chair Jerome Powell made it clear in congressional testimony that he was intent on subduing the rise in prices.


But the aggressive rate rises left some regional banks like Silicon Valley Bank vulnerable because they drove down the value of tens of billions in assets they held. Silicon Valley failed because it didn’t have enough assets to meet withdrawals.

While the Fed and other regulators have acted to shore up the system by backstopping depositors and smaller financial institutions, the concern now is that there may be more banks in a similar predicament. The smaller rate hike should help ease some of these concerns.

Yet, the inflation battle must go on, and the Fed recognizes that strong demand continues to prop up consumer prices, particularly in the service sector. As such, I believe the Fed news shows that it has confidence in the banking system by continuing its interest rate hikes, albeit at a slower pace than had previously been expected.

And this is important. The greatest fear would be that spooked customers might irrationally start withdrawing money from banks because they fear a financial collapse – the classic bank run. That will not happen as long as there is faith in the banking system.


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