Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Thursday said it is way to early to talk about making any changes to the central bank’s easy monetary policy stance, including its $120 billion per month bond-buying program.
It won’t be appropriate to even begin to talk about slowing down or “tapering” the bond purchases until there is “clear evidence” the Fed is making progress on its employment and inflation goals, he said in a discussion sponsored by Princeton University.
Some Fed officials have speculated that if the economy recovers strongly this year, the central bank could reduce the pace of its asset purchases, but Powell pushed back on this speculation.
“Now is not the time to be talking about it,” Powell said, adding “the economy is far from our goals.”
The Fed chairman said the FOMC wouldn’t even discuss tapering the bond buying program until there is “clear evidence” the central bank is making substantial progress on its goals.
“When that happens, and we can see that clearly, we’ll let the world know, we will communicate very clearly to the public and we’ll do so well in advance of active consideration of beginning a gradual taper of asset purchases,” Powell said.
Powell also said that the time will eventually come for the Fed to raise its policy fed funds rate off zero but said “that time, by the way, is no time soon.”
In his hour-long talk, Powell also cast doubt on the idea that inflation is coiling like a spring while the economy is hampered by the pandemic and will burst higher once the activity resumes more fully.
Powell agreed though that prices might rise once the economy recovers and people start spending freely. At the same time, measured inflation will rise as weak readings from last March and April last year drop out of the calculation.
However, Powell said he doubted that these prices gains would lead to persistently higher inflation.
“If inflation were to go up for any reason, inflation doesn’t stay up” like it used to in the 1970s, Powell said.
“There is plenty of slack in the labor market and it’s unlikely that wages pressures are going to be reaching a level that would create and support higher inflation,” the Fed chairman said.
Another factor is shortage of demand in other major economies, he said.
If inflation moved up in ways that were “unwelcome,” the Fed has the tools to act, Powell said.
Only a few Fed officials, Kansas City Fed President Esther George and St, Louis Fed President James Bullard have cited higher inflation as a concern.
The Fed will meet on Jan. 26-27 to review its monetary policy stance.
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