Big new US rate hike but hints of pullback

The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point as it continues to battle the worst outbreak of inflation in 40 years, but has signalled future increases could be made in smaller steps to account for the "cumulative tightening of monetary policy" it has enacted so far.

The Fed's move raised its key short-term rate to a range of 3.75 per cent to 4.0 per cent, its highest level in 15 years.

Fed chair Jerome Powell said that change in pace could come as soon as the central bank's next meeting in December, but he also cautioned there remained extensive uncertainty about how high rates would need to go and they could well end up being higher than policymakers had estimated at their last meeting in September.

The time to reassess the pace of increases "is coming", Powell said at his news conference following the decision by the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to increase rates by a three-quarter point margin for a fourth straight meeting.

"It may come as soon as the next meeting or the one after that," Powell said on Wednesday. "No decision has been made. It is likely we will have a discussion about this at the next meeting."

The new language in the US central bank's latest policy statement took note of the still-evolving impact from its rapid pace of rate hikes, and a desire to home in on a level for the federal funds rate "sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to two per cent over time".

"Ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate," the FOMC said at the end of a two-day meeting.

While not foreclosing any future decision, Fed officials said "the committee will take into account the cumulative tightening of monetary policy, the lags with which monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation, and economic and financial developments".

The language acknowledges the broad debate that has emerged around the Fed's policy tightening, its impact on the US and world economies, and the danger that continued large rate hikes could stress the financial system or trigger a recession.

While its recent rapid increases have been done in the name of moving "expeditiously" to catch up with inflation running at more than three times the Fed's target, the central bank is entering a more nuanced phase.

The US central bank has raised rates at its past six meetings beginning in March, marking the fastest round of increases since former Fed Chair Paul Volcker's fight to control inflation in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Fed's statement said officials remained "highly attentive to inflation risks", opening the door to further hikes.

The economy, the Fed noted, appeared to be growing modestly, with still "robust" job gains and low unemployment.

At September's meeting, the median estimate among policymakers pegged the peak fed funds rate at between 4.5 per cent and 4.75 per cent next year.