The U.S. economy has been growing for 96 straight months, its third longest expansion on record, and if this were any previous expansion, the Federal Reserve’s decision on Wednesday would be a no-brainer: It would be time to raise interest rates. The unemployment rate, at 4.3 percent, is at its lowest level since 2001 and job growth has remained strong for this stage of the recovery. Most importantly, the Fed currently has its target rate set at just 0.75-1.00 percent, far below historic levels. After eight years of unusually low interest rates, the conditions appear ripe to bring them back up.
But one critical economic indicator is saying otherwise: inflation. Normally when the economy is humming, inflation starts to rise, but in this case, the Fed’s preferred measure of annual inflation has actually declined for three months in a row, hitting 1.7 percent in April. If you exclude volatile food and energy prices, inflation is even lower, at 1.5 percent. (The Fed’s inflation target is 2 percent.) And on Monday, the New York Federal Reserve reported that consumer inflation expectations had declined as well; expectations for inflation three years from now hit their lowest point since January, 2016.