The robust growth of the U.S. economy may necessitate additional interest rate increases to mitigate inflationary pressures, according to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.
Speaking at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, an annual conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Powell outlined the uncertainties surrounding the economic outlook while indicating the possible need for further restrictive monetary policies, as reported by the Associated Press.
Inflation still too high
Despite inflation having declined from its peak, Powell maintained that it remains excessively high. He further emphasized that the Federal Reserve remains watchful for signs that the economy is not decelerating as predicted. The central bank is poised to escalate rates further, if necessary, and plans to maintain a restrictive policy level until it sees substantial evidence of sustained inflation reduction towards their 2% target.
As Powell noted, the economy has been expanding at an unexpected pace, coupled with consistent consumer spending, potentially sustaining high inflation pressures. This observation marks a significant departure from his statements in the previous year, where he explicitly warned of continued sharp rate hikes by the Fed to curb soaring prices.
The Fed’s rate hikes have resulted in significantly increased loan rates, making it challenging for Americans to afford homes or cars and for businesses to finance expansions. Despite this—and contrary projections—the U.S. unemployment rate remained steady at 3.5%, barely above a half-century low. The persistent inflation and robust employment figures underscore Powell’s concern about the rapid economic growth, indicating a potential need for higher interest rates to act as a restriction.
Contrary to expectations earlier in the year, most traders now foresee no interest rate cuts before mid-2024 at the earliest. According to Powell, the central bank’s policymakers believe their key rate is sufficiently high to restrain the economy and cool growth, hiring, and inflation. However, he acknowledged the difficulty in determining the necessary borrowing costs to slow the economy, resulting in constant uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the Fed’s policies in reducing inflation.
While traders and economists have shown increased optimism for a “soft landing”—the Fed achieving its target inflation rate without inducing a steep recession—others remain skeptical.