Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell, in his address to the Economic Club of New York on Thursday, outlined the resilience of the US economy despite rapid interest rate rises over the past 18 months. He confirmed that the Fed is proceeding with caution due to various uncertainties, including geopolitical tensions such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and unrest in the Middle East.
Powell emphasized that decisions regarding additional policy tightening would depend on a comprehensive analysis of economic indicators, evolving outlooks, and risk evaluations. He acknowledged that efforts to control inflation and stabilize the job market have not hindered growth, employment, and consumer spending.
The Fed’s base policy rate currently stands between 5.25% and 5.5%, with officials contemplating another small rate hike before year-end based on economic indicators. However, Powell expressed reluctance to raise interest rates unless strong economic activity threatens inflation control.
Inflation has eased from last year’s peak of 9.1% to 3.7% last month, still above the Fed’s 2% target but showing progress. Despite this decline, persistently high prices necessitate a GDP slowdown and hiring for the Fed to achieve its inflation targets.
Powell described the inflation slowdown since June as favorable but acknowledged less encouraging data for September. He suggested wage growth is slowing down to levels consistent with the Fed’s 2% target, easing concerns about an overheated labor market fueling inflation.
Retail sales for September exceeded expectations with a 0.7% increase from the previous month, and employers added 336,000 jobs. The job market is robust, consumers continue to spend, and Fed officials expect modest economic growth this year.
Interest rates disproportionately affect certain sectors like the housing sector, which is particularly sensitive to changes, especially with mortgage rates above 7%. However, this sector is already rebounding. Other industries and some consumer spending patterns appear resistant to high borrowing costs.
Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin highlighted the difficulty of curbing consumer spending with higher rates as wealthier consumers are less impacted. The has risen nearly 1 percentage point since the Fed last raised rates, leading to a Treasury market selloff. The yield climbed to new 16-year highs this week, and officials indicated they would maintain current rates through most of next year if there’s no sharp downturn in the economy.
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