Comparing the Speed of Interest Rate Hikes (1988-2023)
Comparing the Speed of U.S. Interest Rate Hikes
After the latest rate hike on May 3rd, U.S. interest rates have reached levels not seen since 2007. The Federal Reserve has been aggressive with its interest rate hikes as it tries to combat sticky inflation. In fact, rates have risen nearly five percentage points (p.p.) in just 14 months.
In this graphic—inspired by a chart from Chartr—we compare both the speed and severity of current interest rate hikes to other periods of monetary tightening over the past 35 years.
Measuring Periods of Interest Rate Hikes
We measured rate hike cycles with the effective federal funds rate (EFFR), which calculates the weighted average of the rates that banks use to lend to each other overnight. It is determined by the market but influenced by the Fed’s target range. We considered the starting point for each cycle to be the EFFR during the month when the first rate hike took place.
Here is the duration and severity of each interest rate hike cycle since 1988.
|Time Period||Duration |
|Total Change in EFFR
|Mar 1988 - May 1989||14||+3.23|
|Feb 1994 - Feb 1995||12||+2.67|
|Jun 1999 - May 2000||11||+1.51|
|Jun 2004 - Jun 2006||24||+3.96|
|Dec 2015 - Dec 2018||36||+2.03|
|Mar 2022 - May 2023*||14||+4.88|
*We considered a rate hike cycle to be any time period when the Federal Reserve raised rates at two or more consecutive meetings. The 2022-2023 rate hike cycle is ongoing, with the latest hike made on May 4, 2023.
When we last compared the speed of interest rate hikes in September 2022, the current cycle was the fastest but not the most severe. In the months since, the total rate change of 4.88 p.p. has surpassed that of the ‘04-‘06 rate hike cycle. During the ‘04-‘06 cycle, the Federal Reserve eventually decided to pause hikes due to moderate economic growth and contained inflation expectations.
On the other end of the scale, the slowest rate hike cycle occurred in ‘15-‘18 after the Global Financial Crisis. Inflation, as measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index, was a mere 0.30% when the first hike occurred. Meeting transcripts reveal that Federal Reserve officials were concerned they may be raising rates too early. However, they agreed to the small quarter percentage point increase to show unity with Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who believed rising oil prices would eventually lead to higher inflation.
End of a Cycle?
The Federal Reserve’s small quarter-point rate hike on May 3 was influenced by a variety of factors. Below is a look at how select indicators have shifted since the first hike occurred in March 2022.
|March 2022||March 2023|
|Annual Growth in Labor Costs||4.5%||4.8%|
|Inflation-Adjusted Growth in Labor Costs||-3.7%||-0.2%|
|Annualized GDP Growth||7.0%||1.1%|
|Over-the-Month Change in Employment|
(Revised data post-rate hike decision in brackets)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis. Inflation is measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index. GDP growth for March 2022 is for Q4 2021, which is the data the Fed would have had access to when making its first rate hike decision. Employment has since grown by 253,000 in April 2023.
The unemployment rate remains low and job growth remains positive. Labor costs, in terms of wages and benefits, continue to grow. However, they are essentially flat on an inflation-adjusted basis. Inflation is still above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, but it has slowed over the past year.
There are also reasons to be cautious. Economic growth has slowed considerably, and the Federal Reserve predicted in March of this year that a “mild recession” would begin later in 2023. Turbulence in the banking sector is also cause for concern, as tighter credit conditions will likely weigh on economic activity.
For now, it seems the Fed may have pressed pause on future interest rate hikes. Its latest statement said it would “determine the extent to which additional policy firming may be appropriate” rather than previous statements which anticipated future hikes.
Charted: Public Trust in the Federal Reserve
Public trust in the Federal Reserve chair has hit its lowest point in 20 years. Get the details in this infographic.
- Gallup conducts an annual poll to gauge the U.S. public’s trust in the Federal Reserve
- After rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, public trust has fallen to a 20-year low
Charted: Public Trust in the Federal Reserve
Each year, Gallup conducts a survey of American adults on various economic topics, including the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve.
More specifically, respondents are asked how much confidence they have in the current Fed chairman to do or recommend the right thing for the U.S. economy. We’ve visualized these results from 2001 to 2023 to see how confidence levels have changed over time.
Methodology and Results
The data used in this infographic is also listed in the table below. Percentages reflect the share of respondents that have either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence.
|Year||Fed chair||% Great deal or Fair amount|
Data for 2023 collected April 3-25, with this statement put to respondents: “Please tell me how much confidence you have [in the Fed chair] to recommend the right thing for the economy.”
We can see that trust in the Federal Reserve has fluctuated significantly in recent years.
For example, under Alan Greenspan, trust was initially high due to the relative stability of the economy. The burst of the dotcom bubble—which some attribute to Greenspan’s easy credit policies—resulted in a sharp decline.
On the flip side, public confidence spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was likely due to Jerome Powell’s decisive actions to provide support to the U.S. economy throughout the crisis.
Measures implemented by the Fed include bringing interest rates to near zero, quantitative easing (buying government bonds with newly-printed money), and emergency lending programs to businesses.
Confidence Now on the Decline
After peaking at 58%, those with a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the Fed chair have tumbled to 36%, the lowest number in 20 years.
This is likely due to Powell’s hard stance on fighting post-pandemic inflation, which has involved raising interest rates at an incredible speed. While these rate hikes may be necessary, they also have many adverse effects:
- Negative impact on the stock market
- Increases the burden for those with variable-rate debts
- Makes mortgages and home buying less affordable
Higher rates have also prompted many U.S. tech companies to shrink their workforces, and have been a factor in the regional banking crisis, including the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
Where does this data come from?
Source: Gallup (2023)
Data Notes: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted April 3-25, 2023, with a random sample of –1,013—adults, ages 18+, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on this sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. See source for details.
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