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At SIEPR, Fed Chair says no need for rate adjustments

Speaking at the 2019 SIEPR Economic Summit, Jerome Powell reiterated how the interest rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee was going to stay patient.

As eyes across the world stay focused on any monetary policy moves of the Federal Reserve, its chairman made clear Friday that he and his colleagues at the Central Bank do not see an immediate need to make adjustments to interest rates.

Speaking at the 2019 SIEPR Economic Summit, Jerome Powell reiterated how the interest rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee was going to stay patient.

Jerome Powell talks monetary policy with SIEPR Director Mark Duggan.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks with SIEPR Trione Director Mark Duggan at the 2019 SIEPR Economic Summit.

Photo by Ryan Zhang

“With nothing in the outlook demanding an immediate policy response and particularly given muted inflation pressures, the committee has adopted a patient, wait-and-see approach to considering any alteration in the stance of policy,” he said.

However, “evolutionary” changes may be at hand, Powell said, as the Fed works out the details of a plan to “normalize” its balance sheet later this year and as it reaches out for public input on how it could better communicate its policy stance and guidance.

Powell delivered his wide-ranging remarks and managed to squeeze in a FOMC joke during a dinner keynote that capped the daylong conference hosted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

(Summaries and full videos from more Summit sessions will be posted soon on the SIEPR website).

“Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today,” Powell said, “at a place dedicated to scholarship supporting policies to better peoples’ lives.”

Powell’s remarks were live-streamed on SIEPR’s Facebook page, but an audience of about 300 leaders in academia, business and policy had the opportunity to be in the same room. Among them was George Shultz – a co-founder of SIEPR and someone whom Powell said had inspired him to embark on a career in public policy.

Powell made reassurances that the Fed was also going to be very cautious as it deals with inflation rates — where it has hovered around the prescribed target of 2 percent but keeps inching lower, something that is a sign of today’s times, and a far cry from the days past of high inflation.

The fact that inflation is low and unemployment is very low is “to some extent, unchartered territory,” Powell said during a follow-up conversation with Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of SIEPR. He agreed there are challenges today in determining whether the inflation rate is being measured properly. Still, the Fed remains committed to keeping inflation under control, he said.

His remarks came on a day marked by mixed signals about the economy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a weaker-than-expected jobs report, in which the U.S. grew only 20,000 jobs in February — a big drop from the 304,000 jobs added in the previous month and the smallest monthly gain in nearly a year and a half.

At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent from 4 percent — the lowest level in five decades. And, average hourly wages rose 3.4 percent from the year earlier, the biggest year-over-year gain in a decade.

Powell summed it up this way: “The outlook this year is lower growth, but it’s still healthy, I would say.”

Earlier during the SIEPR Summit, the power of the Fed was strongly emphasized by the luncheon keynote speaker, Mary Callahan Erdoes, the Chief Executive Officer of Asset & Wealth Management at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

How the Fed sets monetary policy “is the only thing that matters,” she said.

The Fed, she said, is tasked with maximizing employment and keeping prices stable — all while keeping inflation low. “And to try to control those three things is completely intertwined with what’s happening in Europe and China,” she said.

Powell’s remarks at Stanford were the last from any Fed policymakers until the conclusion of the Fed’s next policy-setting meeting, to be held March 19-20.

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