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Federal Reserve Cuts Interest Rates A Quarter Point

AUDIE CORNISH: The Federal Reserve announced a modest cut in interest rates today. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell described the move as a kind of insurance policy to protect the economy from rising trade tensions and other global threats. The rate cut was widely anticipated, and the stock market took it in stride, but President Trump blasted the Fed for not acting more aggressively. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The U.S. economy still has a lot going for it. Consumers have been spending freely, and unemployment remains near a 50-year low. Still, there are some ominous signs of a slowdown. So Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues decided to cut interest rates today by a quarter of a percent to encourage more borrowing, lending and spending.


JEROME POWELL: We took this step to help keep the U.S. economy strong in the face of some notable developments and to provide insurance against ongoing risks.

HORSLEY: Chief among those risks are slowing growth in other countries, as well as the ongoing trade war, both of which have reduced exports and caused American business owners to think twice about spending money.


POWELL: Our business contacts around the country have been telling us that uncertainty about trade policy has discouraged them from investing in their businesses.

HORSLEY: The architect of that unnerving trade policy is President Trump, and he's been quick to blame the Federal Reserve for the economic slowdown. Trump, who wanted a more aggressive rate cut today, tweeted angrily after the Fed's announcement that Powell and his colleagues had failed again. No guts, the president wrote, no vision. And he called Powell a terrible communicator.

The stock market took a kinder view. Stocks fell when the rate cut was first announced but rebounded during the Fed chairman's news conference. Powell says he thinks the economic slowdown can be navigated with modest adjustments to interest rates, but he was quick to add the central bank is ready to do more if necessary.


POWELL: If, in fact, the economy weakens more, then we're prepared to be aggressive.

HORSLEY: This was the second time in seven weeks the Fed has cut interest rates, but not everyone on the rate-setting committee agreed with the move. Two members of the committee voted to leave rates unchanged while a third voted to cut rates by half a percent. Powell says he and his colleagues will continue to monitor economic signals, which he's described in the past as murky.


POWELL: Sometimes the path ahead is clear, and sometimes less so. So we're going to be looking carefully, meeting by meeting, as we go. And as I said, we will act as appropriate to sustain expansion.

HORSLEY: Still, further cuts in already low interest rates may not be the best medicine for a slowing economy. Business owners, especially in the manufacturing sector, have been dialing back investments not because it's expensive to borrow money but because they're not sure they can sell their products. Matthew Luzzetti of Deutsche Bank says today's move by the Fed won't fix that.

MATTHEW LUZZETTI: It'll help on the margin to keep financial conditions easy, keep mortgage rates low, help to support equities and keep pressure off the dollar a little bit. But the key driver for us is trade uncertainty. And cuts in the Fed funds rate is not going to be able to fully offset that.

HORSLEY: Powell agreed there are limits to how much rate cuts can help.


POWELL: It isn't precisely the right tool for every single possible negative thing that can happen to the economy, but, nonetheless, it broadly works. And, you know, we're going to use the tool we have.

HORSLEY: Some forecasters are expecting more rate cuts from the Fed in the coming months. But even with that extra help, economic growth is expected to keep slowing right through the election next year.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.