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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell Press Conference Transcript June 16, 2021: Inflation outlook

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Good afternoon. At the Federal Reserve, we are strongly committed to achieving the monetary policy goals that Congress has given us: maximum employment and price stability. Today, the Federal Open Market Committee kept interest rates near zero and maintained our asset purchases. These measures, along with our strong guidance on interest rates and on our balance sheet, will ensure that monetary policy will continue to deliver powerful support to the economy until the recovery is complete.

Widespread vaccinations, along with unprecedented fiscal policy actions, are also providing strong support to the recovery. Indicators of economic activity and employment have continued to strengthen, and real GDP this year appears to be on track to post its fastest rate of increase in decades. Much of this rapid growth reflects the continued bounce back in activity from depressed levels. The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic remain weak, but have shown improvement.

Household spending is rising at a rapid pace, boosted by the ongoing reopening of the economy, fiscal support, and accommodative financial conditions. The housing sector is strong, and business investment is increasing at a solid pace. In some industries, near-term supply constraints are restraining activity. Forecasts from FOMC participants for economic growth this year have been revised up since our March Summary of Economic Projections. Even so, the recovery is incomplete and risks to the economic outlook remain.

As with overall economic activity, conditions in the labor market have continued to improve, although the pace of improvement has been uneven. Employment rose 419,000 per month on average in April and May, with the leisure and hospitality sector continuing to post notable gains. Employment in this sector and the economy as a whole remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

The unemployment rate remained elevated in May at 5.8 percent, and this figure understates the shortfall in employment, particularly as participation in the labor market has not moved up from the low rates that have prevailed for most of the past year. Factors related to the pandemic, such as caregiving needs, ongoing fears of the virus, and unemployment insurance payments appear to be weighing on employment growth. These factors should wane in coming months against a backdrop of rising vaccinations, leading to more rapid gains in employment.

Looking ahead, FOMC participants project the labor market to continue to improve, with the median projection for the unemployment rate standing at 4.5 percent at the end of this year and declining to 3.5 percent by the end of 2023. The economic downturn has not fallen equally on all Americans, and those least able to shoulder the burden have been hardest hit. In particular, despite progress, joblessness continues to fall disproportionately on lower-wage workers in the service sector and on African Americans and Hispanics.

Inflation has increased notably in recent months. The 12-month change in PCE prices was 3.6 percent in April and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating. Part of the increase reflects the very low readings from early in the pandemic falling out of the calculation as well as the pass-through of past increases in oil prices to consumer energy prices. Beyond these effects, we are also seeing upward pressure on prices from the rebound in spending as the economy continues to reopen, particularly as supply bottlenecks have limited how quickly production in some sectors can respond in the near term.

These bottleneck effects have been larger than anticipated, and FOMC participants have revised up their projections for inflation notably for this year. As these transitory supply effects abate, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal, and the median inflation projection falls from 3.4 percent this year to 2.1 percent next year and 2.2 percent in 2023.

The process of reopening the economy is unprecedented, as was the shutdown at the onset of the pandemic. As the reopening continues, shifts in demand can be large and rapid, and bottlenecks, hiring difficulties, and other constraints could continue to limit how quickly supply can adjust, raising the possibility that inflation could turn out to be higher and more persistent than we expect. Our new framework for monetary policy emphasizes the importance of having well-anchored inflation expectations, both to foster price stability and to enhance our ability to
promote our broad-based and inclusive maximum employment goal.

Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations have generally reversed the declines seen earlier in the pandemic and have moved into a range that appears broadly consistent with our longer-run inflation goal of 2 percent. If we saw signs that the path of inflation or longer-term inflation expectations were moving materially and persistently beyond levels consistent with our goal, we would be prepared to adjust the stance of monetary policy. The pandemic continues to pose risks to the economic outlook. Progress on vaccinations has limited the spread of COVID-19 and will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy. However, the pace of vaccinations has slowed and new strains of the virus remain a risk. Continued progress on vaccinations will support a return to more normal economic conditions.

The Fed’s policy actions have been guided by our mandate to promote maximum employment and stable prices for the American people, along with our responsibilities to promote the stability of the financial system. As the Committee reiterated in today’s policy statement, with inflation having run persistently below 2 percent, we will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent.

We expect to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these employment and inflation outcomes are achieved. With regard to interest rates, we continue to expect that it will be appropriate to maintain the current 0 to ¼ percent target range for the federal funds rate until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessment of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.

As is evident in the SEP, many participants forecast that these favorable economic conditions will be met somewhat sooner than previously projected; the median projection for the appropriate level of the federal funds rate now lies above the effective lower bound in 2023. Of course, these projections do not represent a Committee decision or plan, and no one knows with any certainty where the economy will be a couple of years from now. More important than any forecast is the fact that, whenever liftoff comes, policy will remain highly accommodative. Reaching the conditions for liftoff will mainly signal that the recovery is strong and no longer requires holding rates near zero.

In addition, we are continuing to increase our holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward our maximum-employment and price-stability goals. The increase in our balance sheet since March 2020 has materially eased financial conditions and is providing substantial support to the economy. At our meeting that concluded earlier today, the Committee had a discussion on the progress made toward our goals since the Committee adopted its asset purchase guidance last December. While reaching the standard of “substantial further progress” is still a ways off, participants expect that progress will continue. In coming meetings, the Committee will
continue to assess the economy’s progress toward our goals.

As we have said, we will provide advance notice before announcing any decision to make changes to our purchases. On a final note, we made a technical adjustment today to the Federal Reserve’s administered rates. The IOER and overnight RRP rates were adjusted upward by 5 basis points in order to keep the federal funds rate well within the target range and to support smooth functioning in money markets. This technical adjustment has no bearing on the appropriate path for the federal funds rate or stance of monetary policy. To conclude, we understand that our actions affect communities, families, and businesses across the country. Everything we do is in service to our public mission. We at the Fed will do everything we can to support the economy for as long as it takes to complete the recovery. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.


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