Friday, August 24, 2018

Fed Chair Powell: "Risk management suggests looking beyond inflation for signs of excesses"

by Bill McBride on 8/24/2018 10:25:00 AM

Speech by Fed Chair Jerome Powell: Monetary Policy in a Changing Economy. A few excerpts:

Experience has revealed two realities about the relation between inflation and unemployment, and these bear directly on the two questions I started with. First, the stars are sometimes far from where we perceive them to be. In particular, we now know that the level of the unemployment rate relative to our real-time estimate of u* will sometimes be a misleading indicator of the state of the economy or of future inflation. Second, the reverse also seems to be true: Inflation may no longer be the first or best indicator of a tight labor market and rising pressures on resource utilization. Part of the reason inflation sends a weaker signal is undoubtedly the achievement of anchored inflation expectations and the related flattening of the Phillips curve.  Whatever the cause, in the run-up to the past two recessions, destabilizing excesses appeared mainly in financial markets rather than in inflation. Thus, risk management suggests looking beyond inflation for signs of excesses.
Let me conclude by returning to the matter of navigating between the two risks I identified--moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion, versus moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating. Readers of the minutes of FOMC meetings and other communications will know that our discussions focus keenly on the relative salience of these risks. The diversity of views on the FOMC is one of the great virtues of our system. Despite differing views on these questions and others, we have a long institutional tradition of finding common ground in coalescing around a policy stance.

I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the FOMC's approach to taking seriously both of these risks. While the unemployment rate is below the Committee's estimate of the longer-run natural rate, estimates of this rate are quite uncertain. The same is true of estimates of the neutral interest rate. We therefore refer to many indicators when judging the degree of slack in the economy or the degree of accommodation in the current policy stance. We are also aware that, over time, inflation has become much less responsive to changes in resource utilization.

While inflation has recently moved up near 2 percent, we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2 percent, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating. This is good news, and we believe that this good news results in part from the ongoing normalization process, which has moved the stance of policy gradually closer to the FOMC's rough assessment of neutral as the expansion has continued. 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 economy is strong. Inflation is near our 2 percent objective, and most people who want a job are finding one. 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 percent.
emphasis added