The Economy

Fed Chair Defends Policy of Gradual Rate Hikes

The current monetary policy addresses both the risk of a slowdown in economic growth and the risk of the economy overheating, Jerome Powell says.
Matthew HellerAugust 27, 2018
Fed Chair Defends Policy of Gradual Rate Hikes

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has reiterated the central bank won’t be swayed from its path of gradual interest rate hikes, suggesting the policy can keep inflation in check without slowing economic growth.

The Fed has come under attack from President Trump, who said last month he was “not thrilled” with recent rate hikes that have brought the benchmark federal funds rate to a target between 1.7% and 2%, well above the near-zero level the Fed maintained during the recovery from the Great Recession.

In a speech last week, Powell did not mention Trump’s criticism but said the Fed is focused on balancing the risk of “moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion” with the risk of “moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating.”

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“I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the [Federal Open Market Committee’s] approach to taking seriously both of these risks,” he said at the Fed’s annual retreat at Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Powell noted that while inflation has moved up near the Fed’s 2% target, “we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2 percent, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating.”

“We believe this good news results from the ongoing normalization process,” he said, adding, “As the most recent FOMC statement indicates, if the strong growth in income and jobs continues, further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.”

The Fed has raised the federal funds rate by 0.25 of a percentage point seven times since December 2015, with two hikes so far this year and another two expected before the end of 2018.

“My colleagues and I are carefully monitoring incoming data, and we are setting policy to do what monetary policy can do to support continued growth, a strong labor market, and inflation near 2%,” Powell said.

If inflation expectations were to “drift materially up or down or should crisis again threaten,” he said, “I am confident that the FOMC would resolutely ‘do whatever it takes.’”