Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell remarked during a Wednesday speech that central bankers will likely slow their implementation of contractionary monetary policy this month.
In an attempt to stimulate the economy after the onset of the lockdown-induced recession, policymakers established a 0% target interest rate and began acquiring government bonds from market actors. Powell and other Federal Open Market Committee members have since raised rates by 0.75% on four consecutive occasions.
During a speech at the Brookings Institution’s Hutchins Center, Powell said that policymakers will “moderate the pace of our rate increases” as soon as December. “Monetary policy affects the economy and inflation with uncertain lags, and the full effects of our rapid tightening so far are yet to be felt,” he said. “Given our progress in tightening policy, the timing of that moderation is far less significant than the questions of how much further we will need to raise rates to control inflation, and the length of time it will be necessary to hold policy at a restrictive level.”
Powell also acknowledged that officials still intend to maintain rates “at a restrictive level for some time,” as “history cautions strongly against prematurely loosening policy.” The Federal Reserve is charged with maintaining stable inflation and low unemployment.
Rate hikes from the central bank have the impact of decreasing macroeconomic demand, as Powell repeatedly emphasized. Interest rates across the economy, such as mortgage rates and the premiums faced by businesses and consumers to borrow money, have quickly risen amid the rollback of the quantitative easing regime.
Some analysts have criticized monetary policymakers for causing harm through their excessive zeal to manage inflation soon after a prolonged increase in the money supply. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently said that the Federal Reserve is “massively amplifying the probability of a severe recession” and “needs to cut interest rates immediately.”
Though Powell acknowledged that the October inflation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics had an unexpected downside, he observed that the two preceding months contained upside surprises. “Despite the tighter policy and slower growth over the past year, we have not seen clear progress on slowing inflation,” he commented.
Among other concerns, Powell noted that labor force participation rates continue to lag following the lockdown-induced recession. He remarked that the “participation gap” is mostly a result of “excess retirements” that occurred beyond “what would have been expected from population aging alone,” even as younger individuals largely return to the workforce.
“In the labor market, demand for workers far exceeds the supply of available workers,” Powell continued, adding that nominal wages have grown faster than the rate expected under 2% inflation. “Thus, another condition we are looking for is the restoration of balance between supply and demand in the labor market.”
The logic behind recent rate hikes rests upon the intentional reduction in demand to match lower levels of supply, constituting an approach that some economists question. Powell, recognizing that the Federal Reserve does not advocate for specific legislative measures approved or rejected by elected lawmakers, noted broadly that “policies to support labor force participation could, over time, bring benefits to the workers who join the labor force and support overall economic growth.”