Tag Archives: Jerome Powell

Jerome Powell’s May 1, 2019 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, May 1, 2019 FOMC Chairman Jerome Powell gave his scheduled May 2019 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of May 1, 2019, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement.”

From Chairman Powell’s opening comments:

CHAIR POWELL:  Good afternoon, and welcome.  At the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting that concluded today, we reviewed economic and financial developments in the United States and around the world and decided to leave our policy interest rate unchanged.  

My colleagues and I have one overarching goal:  to use our monetary policy tools to sustain the economic expansion, with a strong job market and stable prices, for the benefit of the American people.  Incoming data since our last meeting in March have been broadly in line with our expectations.  Economic growth and job creation have both been a bit stronger than we anticipated, while inflation has been somewhat weaker.  Overall, the economy continues on a healthy path, and the Committee believes that the current stance of policy is appropriate. 

The Committee also believes that solid underlying fundamentals are supporting the economy, including accommodative financial conditions, high employment and job growth, rising wages, and strong consumer and business sentiment.  Job gains rebounded in March after a weak reading in February and averaged 180,000 per month in the first quarter, well above the pace needed to absorb new entrants to the labor force.  Although first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) rose more than most forecasters had expected, growth in private consumption and business fixed investment slowed.  Recent data suggest that these two components will bounce back, supporting our expectation of healthy GDP growth over the rest of the year.  

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

STEVE LIESMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chair, Steve Liesman, CNBC. As the statement noted, core inflation now running below 2 percent. It’s been falling for three straight months and while you’ve been close, it’s only been at 2 percent or above one month since 2012. Mr. Chair, I guess I wonder is it time to address low inflation through policy and can you give us some sense of your metric for when it would be time? At what level would it require a policy response from the Committee? 

CHAIR POWELL. So, first, we are strongly committed to our 2 percent inflation objective and to achieving it on a sustained and symmetric basis. As I mentioned, we think our policy stance is appropriate at the moment and we don’t see a strong case for moving in either direction. I would point out that inflation actually ran, including core inflation, actually ran pretty close to 2 percent for much of 2018. As you point out, both headline and core though did come in on the soft side in the first quarter and that was not expected as it relates to core. So we say in our statement of longer run goals and monetary policy strategy that the Committee would be concerned if inflation were running persistently above or below 2 percent. So persistent carries the sense of something that’s not transient, something that will sustain over a period of time. And in this case, as we look at these readings in the first quarter for core, we do see good reasons to think that some or all of the unexpected decrease may wind up being transient. And I’d point to things like portfolio management, service prices, apparel prices, and other things. In addition, the trimmed mean measures of inflation did not go down as much, indeed Dallas trimmed mean is at 2 percent. But to go back to your question, if we did see a persistent — inflation running persistently below, then that is something the Committee would be concerned about and something that we would take into account in setting policy.

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MICHAEL MCKEE. Michael McKee with Bloomberg. I’m curious about the financial conditions that you see out there. The minutes of the March meeting tell us a few officials worried about financial stability risks. Was there a broader discussion at this meeting? Any consensus on whether such risks are growing as the markets hit new highs and we do see some instability in short-end trading. Is it possible that rates are too low at this point? 

CHAIR POWELL. We actually have a financial stability briefing and opportunity for comment every other meeting. So we had our quarterly briefing today — yesterday, as a matter of fact — and had that discussion as well. And I think there haven’t been a lot of changes since the last meeting but I’ll just go through the way we think about it. First, we’ve developed and published our framework for assessing financial stability vulnerabilities, put it out for comment, and welcomed any feedback we get from the public. And that enables us to focus our assessments regularly on the same things so that we can be held accountable and be transparent. So there are four aspects of it that I’ll go through quickly but I’d say that the headline really is that while there are some concerns around nonfinancial corporate debt, really the finding is that overall financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate on balance and, in addition, I would say that the financial system is quite resilient to shocks of various kinds with high capital and liquidity. But the four things we look at are, first, asset prices. And as for asset prices, some asset prices are somewhat elevated but I would say not extremely so. Leverage in the financial sector, I mentioned households are actually in good shape from a leverage standpoint. Default rates are low. Borrowing is relatively low. Nonfinancial corporates is an area that we’ve spotlighted and focused on for attention and there are concerns about that, not so much from a financial stability standpoint but from the standpoint that having a highly levered corporate sector could be an amplifier for a downturn. And then the last two things are really about the leverage in the financial system and funding risk and those are both very, very low by historic standards in the United States. So on balance, in my view, vulnerabilities are moderate. 

MICHAEL MCKEE. If I could follow up on that, I’m just curious as to whether the level of asset prices is a reason why you might not be interested in cutting rates.

CHAIR POWELL. So we do say that risks to the financial system — we say in our longer-run statement of goals and monetary policy strategy that risks to the financial system that could prevent us from achieving our goals are something that we do take into consideration. I would say though that really the tools for addressing those concerns are better — capital liquidity, good supervision, good stress testing, and things like that. Those are better first-order tools to deal with these kinds of issues than monetary policy. 

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2914.81 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s March 20, 2019 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled March 2019 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of March 20, 2019, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement” and “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, March 2019.“

From Chairman Powell’s opening comments:

CHAIR POWELL. Good afternoon everyone, and welcome.  I will begin with an overview of economic conditions and an explanation of the decisions the Committee made at today’s meeting.

My colleagues and I have one overarching goal: to sustain the economic expansion, with a strong job market and stable prices, for the benefit of the American people.  The U.S. economy is in a good place, and we will continue to use our monetary policy tools to help keep it there.  The jobs market is strong, showing healthier wage gains and prompting many people to join or remain in the workforce.  The unemployment rate is near historic lows, and inflation remains near our 2 percent goal.  We continue to expect that the American economy will grow at a solid pace in 2019, although likely slower than the very strong pace of 2018.  We believe that our current policy stance is appropriate.  

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Data arriving since September suggest that growth is slowing somewhat more than expected.  Financial conditions tightened considerably over the fourth quarter.  While conditions have eased since then, they remain less supportive of growth than during most of 2018.  Growth has slowed in some foreign economies, notably in Europe and China.  While the U.S. economy showed little evidence of slowdown through the end of 2018, the limited data we have so far this year have been somewhat more mixed.  Unusually strong payroll job growth in January was followed by little growth at all in February.  Smoothing through these variations, average monthly job growth appears to have stepped down from last year’s strong pace, but job gains remain well above the pace necessary to provide jobs for new labor force entrants.  Many other labor market indicators continue to show strength.  Weak retail sales data for December bounced back considerably in January, but on balance seem to point to somewhat slower growth in consumer spending.  Business fixed investment also appears to be growing at a slower pace than last year.  Inflation has been muted, and some indicators of longer-term inflation expectations remain at the low end of their ranges in recent years.  Along with these developments, unresolved policy issues such as Brexit and the ongoing trade negotiations pose some risks to the outlook.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

HEATHER LONG. Heather Long from the Washington Post. On the broader economy, can you clarify how worried the FOMC is about a steep slowdown. Some of the actions today look like there is more worry, and on the balance sheet, can you clarify, does the FOMC see the runoff as a form of monetary tightening? 

CHAIR POWELL. So, on the outlook, our outlook is a positive one. So, as I mentioned, FOMC participants continue to see growth this year of around two percent, just a bit below what we saw back in at the end of last year. And part of that is seeing that economic fundamentals, underlying economic fundamentals are still very strong. You have a strong labor market by most measures. You have rising incomes. You’ve got very low unemployment. You have confident surveys for households and also for businesses that are at attractive levels, and you also have financial conditions that are more accommodative than they were a couple of months ago. So, we see the outlook as a positive one. As far as balance sheet, the balance sheet plan, the answer to that is, you asked whether that’s related to our monetary policy in effect, and the answer is really no. We still think of the interest rate tool as the principal tool of monetary policy, and we think of ourselves as returning the balance sheet to a normal level over the course of the next six months, and were not really thinking of those as two different tools of monetary policy. 

STEVE LIESMAN. Steve Liesman, CNBC. Mr. Chairman, can you talk about how global developments are affecting the U.S.? What’s the cause of the weakness over there? How much is it responsible for the downgrade in GDP over here and what impact are tariffs both in the United States and retaliatory tariffs having on both the U.S. and the global economies? Thank you. 

CHAIR POWELL. So, global economy was a tailwind for the United States in 2017. That was the year of synchronized global growth, and we began 2018 expecting and hoping for more of the same. What happened instead is that the global economy started to gradually slow, and now we see a situation where the European economy has slowed substantially and so has the Chinese economy, although the European economy more. And just as strong global growth was a tailwind, weaker global growth can be a headwind to our economy. How big is that effect? It’s hard to be precise about it, but clearly we will feel that. It is an integrated global economy, and global financial markets are integrated as well. In terms of what’s causing it, it seems to be a range of different things. In China you have, you know, factors that are very specific to China. The main point though is that I would say the outlook, let’s look at the outlook, Chinese authorities have taken many steps since the middle of last year to support economic activity, and

I think the base case is that ultimately Chinese activity will stabilize at an attractive level. And in Europe, you know, we see some weakening, but, again, we don’t see, we don’t see recession, and we do see positive growth still. You ask about tariffs. I would say tariffs may be a factor in China. I don’t think they’re the main factor. I think the main factors are the levering campaign that the government undertook a couple of years ago and also just the longer term slowing to a more sustainable pace of growth that economies find as they mature. In terms of our own economy, the level of tariffs is relatively small in the size of our economy, relative to the size of our economy. We have since the beginning of the year and before really been hearing from our extensive network of business contacts, a lot of concerns about tariffs, concerns about material costs on imported products and the loss of markets and things like that, depending on which industry. So, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty. It’s hard to say how much of an effect that’s having on our economy. It’s very hard to tease that apart, but I will say it’s been a prominent concern among our business contacts for some time now.

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JIM TANKERSLEY. Hi, Mr. Chairman, Jim Tankersley, New York Times. I’m curious, you’re now a full percentage point, actually more than a percentage point below the White House in your projections for growth this year. By my calculations, that’s the largest spread we’ve seen since the end of the recession between the White House and the Fed. Why, for one, do you see, do you see the economy so differently than they do, and do you worry at all about implications for policy from that? 

CHAIR POWELL. I haven’t, I haven’t seen their projection. I wouldn’t comment on their projection. I would take it this way. You can think of growth as being composed of two things. And one is really growth in the workforce, more hours worked, and the other is productivity. Its output per hour. You can really think of growth as those two things. And I’ve been calling, often mentioned these days that it would be great if we had national level policies to support higher labor force participation. The United States is now one of the lowest countries among the advanced economies in terms of our labor force participation by prime age workers. And that’s a place where we can grow faster. If we can bring more people into the labor force and give them a chance to contribute to and benefit from our overall prosperity, that will be a great thing for the country. So, I would like to see that. Productivity is much harder. Very difficult to project productivity over long stretches of time. It’s a function of evolving technology. So, I guess I would say what’s the, what is the potential growth rate? It’s quite hard to know with any precision, and I just would like to see us, you know, undertake an effort to make it be as high as it can sustainably be. 

JIM TANKERSLEY. If I could follow up on that, do you see the tax cuts, the 2017 tax cuts as having provided a large boost to labor force participation as the White House does. 

CHAIR POWELL. I would say so. I think it’s clear that the tax and spending policies that were adopted early last year supported demand in a significant way last year. And it’s also the case, I think, that they should have some supply side effects. I think it’s hard to know, it’s hard to identify those with any precision, and we hope they’re, we hope they’re very large. And the idea would be that lowering corporate taxes would spur more corporate investment, which would spur more productivity, and lowering individual taxes would spur greater labor force participation. I wouldn’t want to be handing, you know, assigning creditor blame for that, but I do think that the performance of labor force participation over the last really three or four years has been an upside surprise that most people didn’t see coming, and it’s extremely welcome.

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TREVOR HUNNICUTT. Trevor Hunnicutt from Reuters. You mentioned that you have kind of a positive outlook as it regards the economy but also see slower growth on the household side and the business side. Given how big of a part of the U.S. economy that is, what gives you kind of confidence that the slowdown we’re seeing is temporary. 

CHAIR POWELL. So on the household side, what we saw was a very weak reading on retail sales in December and then a bounceback in the January reading, and, you know, it was a surprise, I would say, and inconsistent with a significant amount of other data. We’re not dismissing it in any way, but I would go back to what is it that supports consumer spending. It’s 70 percent of the economy, as you point out, and its strong economic underlying fundamentals. So, rising wages, high levels of employment, low levels of unemployment, high levels of job creation. Confidence. 

The household confidence surveys have moved back up to where they were last summer. So we look at those fundamentals, and we think that looks like a setting in which consumption will have support from underlying economic fundamentals. And that’s really what we’re thinking there. So, you know, we’re also patiently watching and waiting and not assuming. We’re not taking no signal from the incoming data. That’s why we called it out in our statement. So, I think our eyes are open on this. 

NICK TIMIRAOS. Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal. Chair Powell, in 1998 the Fed eased policy in a way that some say may have avoided a recession, others say may have helped fuel the NASDAQ tech stock bubble, and financial conditions have eased considerably this year since the policy pivot that you made clear in January, the S&P, for example, it’s just three percent below last summer’s peak. And so I wonder, does this episode from 20 years ago bear at all on your thinking today about the risks posed by rising asset values in an environment of a shallower policy path? 

CHAIR POWELL. We’re in a very different world today and post crisis, because we now very carefully monitor financial conditions and financial stability concerns on an ongoing basis, and we publish a report twice a year, and we have quarterly board meeting and briefings where we look deeply into these things. So this is something we have very much on our radar screen. 

And I would say overall we don’t see financial stability vulnerabilities as high. There are some aspects of the financial markets that we’re carefully monitoring, and those are in the nature of things that might be amplifiers to a downturn as opposed to a financial stability concern, which might lead to a financial crisis and that kind of thing, which we don’t see. 

So, we do monitor that, and I would also say, you know, that the whole question of monetary policy and financial stability is an unsettled and difficult one in our world. We do think that the principal tools for, you know, for managing financial stability are regulation, supervision, macroprudential tools, and those sorts of things as opposed to changing the interest rate. But we’re certainly very mindful of financial conditions and those risks. 

NICK TIMIRAOS. If I could ask a followup? If it’s the case that we’re in a lower neutral interest rate world where you could have more asset price appreciation, do you think the Fed needs more macroprudential tools so that it doesn’t have to lean on monetary to do so much. 

CHAIR POWELL. It’s a very difficult question with a long answer. We, in our system, we mainly rely on through the cycle tools like high capital and stress tests. Our financial stability system is built on those tools. High capital, high liquidity, resolution planning, stress testing. So those are always on. We also have some tools, like the countercyclical capital buffer, which we can deploy at times when vulnerabilities are meaningfully above normal. But we do rely on those tools. And I would say our banks are well capitalized. They’re far better capitalized and better aware of their risks and more liquid than they were before the financial crisis. So they’ll be more resilient in, you know, in difficult states of the economy. 

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NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER. Nancy Marshall-Genzer with Marketplace. Just a quick follow-up on Brexit. You mentioned that you’re making sure that U.S. financial institutions are ready for whatever outcome. I’m wondering, can you be a little more specific about that, and also how are you preparing for any pressures that a hard Brexit would put on the U.S. dollar?

CHAIR POWELL. Well, as I mentioned, you know, with the stress test that the largest financial institutions, and those are the ones that tend to be active internationally, that they undergo every year, we put them through very large financial shocks with large losses and big changes in markets every year. And we vary that every year. So, that’s a pretty good, you know, having done that for a number of years now, that’s, and having them be required to have adequate capital and liquidity even after all that happens. So that’s a good thing to have done knowing that you’re going into something that’s quite unknown, which may prove stressful. It may not prove stressful depending on what the outcome is. So, I think all that has probably prepared our institutions well. That said, nothing like this has happened in recent years, and so it’s really hard to be confident. So, we’re very watchful about what’s going on.

[ Inaudible Comment ]

So we don’t, you know, the dollar is really the business of the Treasury Department. It’s certainly a financial condition unto itself that plays into our models, but we don’t, you know, seek or model or attempt to affect the dollar directly with our policies.

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2854.14 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s March 10, 2019 “60 Minutes” Interview – Comments

Jerome Powell gave his first interview to “60 Minutes” last (Sunday, March 10, 2019) night. The video of the Interview and transcript can be seen at “Jerome Powell 60 Minutes Interview: Full Uncut Transcript.”

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable in the order they appear in the transcript. (Please note that in general I don’t necessarily agree with his comments, and in many cases disagree with them):

PELLEY: We have seen big swings in the stock markets in the United States. And I wonder, do you think the markets today are overvalued?

POWELL: We don’t comment on the valuation of the stock market particularly. And we do though, we monitor financial conditions carefully. Our interest rate policy works through financial conditions. So we look at a very broad range of financial conditions. That includes interest rates, the level of the dollar, the availability of credit and also the stock market. So we look at a range of things. And I think we feel that conditions are generally healthy today.

PELLEY: Generally healthy? One of your predecessors back in the ’90s famously said that the market in those days was irrationally exuberant. You don’t see that today?

POWELL: We don’t see much evidence of that today. There, as always, in our very highly developed and large capital markets, there are places you can point which are, let’s say hotter than others. But, generally speaking, credit spreads, which is the compensation you get above risk-free rates for taking credit risk, are at relatively normal levels. By some measures the stock market valuation is closer to its sort of normal levels over long periods of time. There are pockets though. There are things, for example, the leverage lending corporates. We’ve seen high growth in leverage lending to non-financial corporates. And that’s something we’re watching carefully.

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PELLEY: Where do you see weakness in the U.S. economy?

POWELL: Generally speaking, the U.S. economy is coming off a very strong year last year. We had growth just a touch higher than 3%. And that strength was pretty widespread. You know we have high levels of employment, low levels of unemployment, wages are moving up. Consumer confidence is high, business confidence is high. We’ve seen a bit of a slowing, but still to healthy levels in the U.S. economy this year. So the U.S. economy does seem to be favorable. The outlook for the U.S. economy is favorable. I would say the principal risks to our economy now seem to be coming from slower growth in China and Europe and also risk events such as Brexit.

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PELLEY: Retail sales declined in December, the fastest pace since 2009. Are these things taken together suggesting that the system is blinking red?

POWELL: Well, we look at a wide range of data. We never focus too much on one month’s report, on one series. And I think generally, the outlook for the U.S. economy remains a favorable one. You point to the retail sales number. And it was surprisingly weak. And we’re, of course, watching that. We’ll be watching the next month retail sales. The reason it’s a surprise is that we had lots of other reports of relatively healthy levels of spending over the holidays. And that comes from a number of different channels. And so we’ll be looking to see, there’s also evidence, by the way, that spending has popped back up in January. But that’s a surprisingly weak reading. And we’ll be watching the next month’s reading shortly.

PELLEY: But the overarching question is are we headed to a recession?

POWELL: The outlook for our economy, in my view, is a favorable one. It’s a positive one. I think growth this year will be slower than last year. Last year was the highest growth that we’ve experienced since the financial crisis, really in more than ten years. This year, I expect that growth will continue to be positive and continue to be at a healthy rate.

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PELLEY: Where are you taking us? What is an ideal economy in your view?

POWELL: Well, I think of the direction I’d like to see us keep going. And that is right now, unemployment is at a 50-year-low. And we’re at a pretty good – we’re pretty close to price stability as well. But we have longer run issues. And it would be important for us as a nation to address these issues. In particular, you’re not counted as unemployed if you haven’t looked for a job in the last four weeks. And we have an unusually large number of people in their prime working years who are not in the labor force. The United States has a lower labor force participation rate than almost every other advanced country. That is not our self-image as a country. It’s very important that we bring people back into the labor force so that they can contribute to our shared prosperity and reap the benefits of doing so. The economy will be stronger and the country will be stronger if we can do that. Not all of the tools to accomplish that are the Fed’s. Many of them are in the hands of Congress.

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PELLEY: What went wrong was that American banks let the country down. Are American banks safe today?

POWELL: American banking system is much, much stronger and more resilient than it was before the financial crisis. Particularly the largest banks have double or more the amount of capital, which is to say resources to absorb losses. They’re far more liquid. It’s often a lack of liquidity that causes a financial institution to fail. So they have far higher levels of liquidity. Because of stress testing they also have a much more forward looking sense of what the risks are that they’re actually running and the ability to manage them is much higher. In addition, we’ve required them to undergo resolution planning in case they do fail. There’s a plan for what to do, which doesn’t involve a taxpayer bailout. So overall, there’s no question that, not just the banks, but various aspects of the financial system, are in a much stronger place. We never declare victory on this. We are still working on it and we will continue to be vigilant because people’s lives can be permanently damaged by that kind of event. And we really want to avoid that.

PELLEY: But in 2007 the Fed missed the reckless criminal banking that was happening throughout our banking system. How do you know today that the banks are safe?

POWELL: Well, as I said, we spent ten years analyzing, understanding what went wrong and trying to correct it. And we’ve done a great deal. As I say, we don’t declare victory on this. We never will. We are going to keep our vigilance high on this. But overall, there’s no question in my mind that the financial system is much stronger and better able to perform its critical function in good times and bad.

PELLEY: A collapse of the financial system like we saw in 2008 cannot happen again?

POWELL: Cannot is a strong statement. You know, I would say that our system is vastly more resilient and strong than it was before the financial crisis.

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2743.07 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s January 30, 2019 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, January 30, 2019 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled January 2019 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of January 30, 2019, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement.

From Chairman Powell’s opening comments:

CHAIRMAN POWELL: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. I will start with a recap of our discussions, including our assessment of the outlook for the economy, and the judgments we made about our interest rate policy and our balance sheet. I will cover the decisions we made today, as well as our ongoing discussions of matters on which we expect to make decisions in coming meetings. My colleagues and I have one overarching goal: to sustain the economic expansion, with a strong job market and stable prices, for the benefit of the American people. The U.S. economy is in a good place, and we will continue to use our monetary policy tools to help keep it there. The jobs picture continues to be strong, with the unemployment rate near historic lows and with stronger wage gains. Inflation remains near our 2 percent goal. We continue to expect that the American economy will grow at a solid pace in 2019, although likely slower than the very strong pace of 2018. We believe that our current policy stance is appropriate at this time. 

Despite this positive outlook, over the past few months we have seen some cross-currents and conflicting signals about the outlook. Growth has slowed in some major foreign economies, particularly China and Europe. There is elevated uncertainty around several unresolved government policy issues, including Brexit, ongoing trade negotiations, and the effects from the partial government shutdown in the United States. Financial conditions tightened considerably late in 2018, and remain less supportive of growth than they were earlier in 2018. And, while most of the incoming domestic economic data have been solid, some surveys of business and consumer sentiment have moved lower, giving reason for caution.

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In addition, the case for raising rates has weakened somewhat. The traditional case for rate increases is to protect the economy from risks that arise when rates are too low for too long, particularly the risk of too-high inflation. Over the past few months, that risk appears to have diminished. Inflation readings have been muted, and the recent drop in oil prices is likely to push headline inflation lower still in coming months. Further, as we noted in our post-meeting statement, while survey-based measures of inflation expectations have been stable, financial market measures of inflation compensation have moved lower. Similarly, the risk of financial imbalances appears to have receded, as a number of indicators that showed elevated levels of financial risk appetite last fall have moved closer to historical norms. 

In this environment, we believe we can best support the economy by being patient in evaluating the outlook before making any future adjustment to policy.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

HEATHER LONG. Heather Long from the Washington Post. Last week, the IMF said risks are clearly skewed to the downside for the U.S. and global economy. Can you clarify, does the FOMC see risks as skewed to the downside, particularly after you removed the statement about risk being balanced? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. We had an extensive discussion of the baseline and also of the risks to the baseline and the risks are of course the fact that financial conditions have tightened, that global growth has slowed, as well as some, let’s say, government related risks like Brexit and trade discussions and also the effects and ultimate disposition of the shutdown. So we looked at – we look at those. And the way we think of it is that policy, we will use our policy and we have to offset risks to the baseline. So we view the baseline as still solid and part of that is the way we adjusted our baseline to address those risks. So that’s the way we’re thinking about that now. 

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STEVE LIESMAN. Steve Liesman, CNBC. Mr. Chairman, did the Committee discuss an actual change to the runoff policy or the runoff schedule right now? If so, is that under consideration right now and when might we know? The second thing is, I have to nail down this thing. You guys, Fed folks, keep mentioning the market average or the market outlook for the size of the balance sheet. Are you endorsing the market average, which is 3-1/2 trillion? And if you’re not endorsing it, why do you keep mentioning it? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Okay. So, today I’m here to talk about decisions and also discussions about decisions that haven’t been made. So we’re talking about the latter thing, which is discussions and so I can’t get ahead of where decisions are. But so the Committee is — what we’re looking to do is create a whole plan that will bring us to our goal, our longer run goal which is a balance sheet no larger than it needs to be for us to efficiently conduct — efficiently and effectively conduct monetary policy, but to do so in a way that doesn’t put our goals at risk or result in unnecessary market turmoil. So there are a lot of pieces to that and we’ve learned over time that it’s — when making these — when designing these plans, like for example the original normalization plan, it’s good to take your time. Let the best ideas rise to the top. Let them stand the test of time and argument and then move when you’re really comfortable with what you’ve got and when you feel you can communicate it clearly. So I don’t want to get ahead of that process today. 

So we’ve discussed — there are a number of pieces to that puzzle. There are several different pieces to them and I think they’re coming and I’m very pleased with the progress that we’ve made and, you know, the piece that you mentioned is something that is in those discussions. That’s the first question. I’m not going to give our estimate or ratify anybody else’s estimate of what the equilibrium balance sheet is here today. There are estimates out there but I’m not at a point today where I’m going to be giving out numbers on that. But there are estimates and I think they’re consistent with what I said, broadly speaking.

also:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM. Binyamin Appelbaum, New York Times. I am struggling a little bit to understand what has changed since we sat here with you six weeks ago. You’ve said today that you think that inflation would be the reason that the Fed would need to continue raising rates. Has the inflation outlook shifted that dramatically in the last six weeks? Can you speak specifically to why you’ve moved from a posture of saying we expect to keep raising rates this year to a posture of standing still? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. I’d point to a couple of things. First, the narrative of slowing global growth continues, if you will. The incoming data have shown more of that. We’ve seen that both in China and in Western Europe, and so that’s an important — that has important implications for us and that story has — let’s just say it continues. 

And in addition — I mean, I think important — possibly less important now, probably less important now but has been the shutdown, which will leave some sort of imprint on first quarter GDP. We don’t know the ultimate resolution of it. If that’s all there is and the shutdown is gone and there isn’t another shutdown, then we’ll get most of that back in the second period — second quarter. 

So those things — in addition, you know, you have to look back. Financial conditions began to tighten in the fourth quarter and they now have persisted and remain tighter — significantly tighter, let’s say — than they were and that’s something that we have to take into account as well. So that’s where we are. 

also:

EDWARD LAWRENCE. Edward Lawrence from FOX Business News, thank you Mr. Chairman. The long-term federal funds rate is 2.8 percent. I’ve talked in the last year with a number of Fed presidents who worry that under 3 percent is not enough to handle the next recession. You say that’s your first tool. That’s your primary means of adjusting monetary policy. So with a larger balance sheet — with a larger balance sheet, could you — how could you handle that next recession then with the combination of those two? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. I guess the sense of your question is that we could be in a situation in the future — we hope not — but we could be in a situation where we’d like to cut rates more than we can effectively and we hit the zero lower bound. We don’t think anything like that is in the cards. Now there’s no reason to think that it would be. But, as we said in today’s release, if that happens, then we’ll use the full range of our tools and that includes the balance sheet. But we would use it after using our conventional tools, which would be the interest rate and forward guidance about the interest rate. 

EDWARD LAWRENCE. Even if you have a large balance sheet, 4 trillion? Above four trillion? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Yes. There would be room to do substantially more. 

also:

COURTENAY BROWN. Hi, Mr. Chairman. Courtenay Brown from Axios. A data dependency question, has there been a prioritization of market data over the economic data? How do you balance those two things? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. I would say that, you know, our mandate is maximum employment and stable prices and that’s about, you know, hard, real-side economic data. As I mentioned earlier, we — our tool, you know, our interest rate tool operates on the economy through financial conditions. 

So financial conditions matter and they matter in the way that I suggested earlier, which is to say broad financial conditions changing over a sustained period, that has implications for the macro economy — it does. So if you lower interest rates and they stay low, every borrower in the country ultimately has a lower interest rate. That will have an effect on — over time — an effect on the economy. But again, the entire focus we have is on maximum employment and stable prices, not on any particular financial market or financial conditions generally. 

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2699.90 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s December 19, 2018 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, December 19, 2018 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled December 2018 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of December 19, 2018, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement” and “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, December 2018“ (pdf).

From Chairman Powell’s opening comments:

Over the past year, the economy has been growing at a strong pace, the unemployment rate has been near record lows, and inflation has been low and stable. All of those things remain true today. Since the September meeting of the FOMC, however, some crosscurrents have emerged. I’ll explain how my colleagues and I are incorporating those crosscurrents into our judgments about the outlook and the appropriate course of policy. 

Since September, the U.S. economy has continued to perform well, roughly in line with our expectations. The economy has been adding jobs at a pace that will continue bringing the unemployment rate down over time. Wages have moved up for workers across a wide range of occupations, a welcome development. Inflation has remained low and stable, and is ending the year a bit more subdued than most had expected. Although some American families and communities continue to struggle and some longer-term economic problems remain, the strong economy is benefiting many Americans. 

Despite this robust economic backdrop and our expectation for healthy growth, we have seen developments that may signal some softening relative to what we were expecting a few months ago. Growth in other economies around the world has moderated somewhat over the course of 2018, albeit to still-solid levels. At the same time, financial market volatility has increased over the past couple of months, and overall financial conditions have tightened–that is, they have become less supportive of growth. 

In our view, these developments have not fundamentally altered the outlook. Most FOMC participants have, instead, modestly lowered their growth and inflation forecasts for next year. The projections of Committee participants released today show growth continuing at healthy levels, the unemployment rate falling a bit further next year, and inflation remaining near 2 percent. The projections also show a modestly lower path for the federal funds rate, which should support the economy and keep us near our goals. As the economy struggled to recover from the financial crisis and the subsequent recession, the Committee held our policy rate near zero for seven years to give the economy the best chance to recover. And the economy did recover steadily, if slowly at times. Three years ago the Committee came to the view that the best way to achieve our mandate was to gradually move interest rates back to levels that are more normal in a healthy economy. Today, we raised our target range for short-term interest rates by another quarter of a percentage point. As I’ve mentioned, most of my colleagues expect the economy to continue to perform well in the coming year. Many FOMC participants had expected that economic conditions would likely call for about three more rate increases in 2019. We have brought that down a bit and now think it is more likely that the economy will grow in a way that will call for two interest rate increases over the course of next year.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

BINYAMIN APPLEBAUM. Binyamin Applebaum, The New York Times. You’re about to undershoot your inflation target for the seventh straight year. Your new forecasts say that you’re going to undershoot it for the eighth straight year. Should we interpret the dot plot is suggesting that some members of your Committee believe that policy should be in a restrictive range by the end of next year? And if so, can you help us to understand why people would be advocating restrictive monetary policy at a time of persistent inflation undershoots?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Well, we, as a Committee, we do not desire inflation undershoots. And you’re right, inflation has continued to surprise to the downside, not by a lot though, I think. We’re very close to 2 percent, and you know, we do believe it’s a symmetric goal for us. Inflation is symmetric around 2 percent, and that’s how we’re going to look at it. We’re not trying to be under 2 percent. We’re trying to be symmetrically around 2 percent, and I don’t, you know, I’ve never said that I feel like we’ve achieved that goal yet. The only way to achieve inflation symmetrically around 2 percent is to have inflation symmetrically around 2 percent, and we’ve been close to that. We haven’t gotten there yet, and we have not declared victory on that. So, that remains to be accomplished.

JEANNA SMIALEK. Hi, Jeanna Smialek, Bloomberg News. Just following up on Binyamin’s question. I guess if you haven’t achieved 2 percent inflation and you don’t see an overshoot, which would be sort of implied by a symmetrical target, what’s the point in raising rates again at all? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So again, I go back to the health of the economy. When you look at 2018, as I mentioned, this the best year since the financial crisis. You’ve had growth well above trend. You’ve got unemployment dropping. You’ve got inflation moving up to 2 percent. And we also have a positive forecast, as I mentioned, and in that context, we think this move was appropriate for what is a very healthy economy. 

Policy at this point does not need to be accommodative. It can move to neutral. It seems appropriate that it be neutral. We’re now at the bottom end of range of estimates of neutral. So that’s the basis upon which we made the decision. I also think we took onboard, you know, the risks to that, and, you know, we’re certainly cognizant of them. 

also:

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER. Nancy Marshall-Genzer with Marketplace. Do you still think core PCE is a good measure of whether the economy is overheating? What do you think of other measures like setting a target for economic growth and relying more on that? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Well, I think we look at both, but core PCE is a good indicator. It has, what’s happened over really 50 years is that inflation has become much less reactive to changes in growth. There was a time when inflation reacted really quickly to changes in growth and changes in unemployment. And that time is behind us. And that is often attributed to the success of central banks in anchoring inflation expectations so that people believe that inflation will come back to the target or around the target so it doesn’t go down as much, inflation doesn’t go down as much, and a downturn doesn’t go up as much when the, you know, when the economy is strong.  It’s really true, though, that inflation has not reacted a lot on a road from 10 percent unemployment to now 3.7 percent unemployment. Now it did move up last year. But in terms of just targeting growth, you know, I think actually think our dual mandate works very well, which is maximum employment and stable prices. Most of the time, those two things work together. When they work temporarily in different ways, we take a balanced approach. But I think that approach has served us well, and I think we can work well with it.

also:

COURTENAY BROWN. Hi Chairman, Courtenay Brown from Axios. I’m wondering if you could clear up what’s become a little bit of a debate in the financial community. You said in October in an interview with PBS that interest rates were a long way from neutral. A month later you said interest rates were just below neutral. And I think a lot of people interpreted that as a shift in tone from you. Were they right to interpret it that way? 

CHAIRMAN POWELL. You know, monetary policy is a forward-looking exercise, and I’m going to, I’m just going to stick with that. It’s, where we are right now is we’re at the lower end of the range of neutral. We’ve arrived effectively at the bottom end of that range. And, you know, there are implications of that. For that, as I mentioned, going forward, there’s real uncertainty about the path, the pace rather, and the destination for further rate increases. And we’re going to be letting incoming data inform our thinking about the appropriate path.

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2470.23 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s September 26, 2018 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, September 26, 2018 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled September 2018 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of September 26, 2018, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement” and “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, September 2018“ (pdf).

From Chairman Powell’s opening comments:

Our economy is strong.  Growth is running at a healthy clip.  Unemployment is low, the number of people working is rising steadily, and wages are up.  Inflation is low and stable.  All of these are very good signs.  Of course, that’s not say that everything is perfect.  The benefits of this strong economy have not reached all Americans.  Many of our country’s economic challenges are beyond the scope of the Fed, but my colleagues and I are doing all we can to keep the economy strong, healthy, and moving forward.  That is the best way we can promote an environment in which every American has the opportunity to succeed.

also:

Both household spending and business investment are expanding briskly, and the overall growth outlook remains favorable.  Several factors support this assessment:  Fiscal policy is boosting the economy, ongoing job gains are raising incomes and confidence, and overall financial conditions remain accommodative.  These conditions are consistent with our Summary of Economic Projections for this meeting.  The median of Committee participants’ projections for the growth of real GDP is 3.1 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year.

Job gains averaged 185,000 per month over the last three months, well above the pace needed in the longer run to provide jobs for new entrants to the labor force.  The unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent in August, and has been near that level since April.  Smoothing through month-to-month variations, the labor force participation rate remains about where it was in late 2013–a positive sign, given that the aging of our population is putting downward pressure on participation.  We expect the job market to remain strong.  And the median of Committee participants’ projections for the unemployment rate later this year is 3.7 percent, and a bit lower than that in 2019.

also:

Today the Committee raised the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/4 percentage point, bringing it to 2 to 2-1/4 percent.  This action reflects the strength we see in the economy, and is one more step in the process that we began almost three years ago of gradually returning interest rates to more normal levels.  Looking ahead, today’s projections show gradual interest rate increases continuing roughly as foreseen in June.  The median of the participants’ views on appropriate policy through 2020 are unchanged since the June meeting.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

SAM FLEMING. Thanks very much. Sam Fleming from the Financial Times. The Fed has recently been saying that financial stability risks are moderate. What kind of developments could prompt a change in that assessment to elevated risks? And is there an argument for moving the counter cyclical capital buffer, even when risks are moderate, rather than waiting until the risks are seen as elevated, which arguably could be too late? Thanks.

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, I think one of the most important lessons from the financial crisis is really the importance of the stability of the financial system. And so, we — since the financial crisis, as you’re aware, we’ve had a major focus on building up our monitoring of financial conditions and financial stability issues. We’ve also put in place many, many initiatives to strengthen the financial system through higher capital, and better regulation, more transparency, central clearing, margins on unclear derivatives, all kinds of things like that, which are meant to strengthen the financial system. We’ve done many of those things, and we feel that the financial system is in a much better place.

As we look at — as we look at conditions most recently, and this was at our last meeting and it was in our minutes for the last meeting, quarterly, we have a briefing at the FOMC, and also at the Board, of the staffs’ views on financial stability, and the staff judged the overall vulnerabilities to be moderate. If you dig into the different aspects of that question, households or balance sheets are in good shape. You know, employment is high, wages are rising, that sort of thing. The banking system, as I mentioned, is, you know, much higher capital, much higher liquidity, is much stronger. If you look at asset prices, it is true that some asset prices are in the upper range of their historical — upper reach of their historical ranges. And then if you look at non-financial corporates, you get — there is the story of leverage there. So, it’s not that there aren’t any vulnerabilities, but we see them as moderate.

Now you ask about the counter cyclical capital buffer. The counter cyclical capital buffer is a tool that we added to our toolkit I think finally back in 2016. We said that we would deploy it when vulnerabilities were meaningfully above normal. We revisit that on a regular schedule and the last time we revisited it was I think last year — sometime last year and concluded that the test was not met. As I mentioned at the last briefing, the — you know, the assessment was that vulnerabilities were moderate, but it remains a kit — a tool for our toolkit that we can deploy, you know, when and as we feel appropriate.

also:

GREG ROBB. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Greg Robb from MarketWatch. The 10-year anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers got a lot of attention over the last month. I was wondering if you thought there were any lessons from the crisis that you want to share and two points on that. You go to Congress a lot and talk to members of Congress. Now Secretary Paulson and Mr. Geithner and Chair Bernanke have said that Congress made a mistake when it took away the Fed’s emergency powers in Dodd-Frank. And then one other thing is that are you confident that all these non-banks didn’t – you know, non-banks never got put into the, you know, the FSOC, you know, system. So, are you confident that the — you can see the risks in the financial system? Thank you.

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, three things there. The first thing is the single biggest thing I think that we learned was the — as I mentioned I think earlier, the importance of maintaining the stability of the financial system. So, I think if you look — if you look back at the way the models worked, and the way people thought about risk in the economy, that’s what was missing, and I think it’s not missing anymore. So, we — you know, we put a tremendous focus on that. We raised capital, liquidity. We have stress tests, which force banks to understand — the largest banks particularly — to understand and better manage their risk and have enough capital to survive a really substantial shock that’s at least as bad as the financial crisis. And if all that doesn’t work, we’ve got resolution plans, which we’ve, you know, through many cycles, have made really substantial progress, more than I had thought was likely. So, we’ve done a lot.  Nobody’s — you know, nobody is I think overconfident that we solved every problem. And, you know, now we’re going back and kind of taking a hard look at everything, and, you know, trying to make — trying to — trying to keep at it.

So, I think those are the really important lessons and, you know, we — we’re determined not to, you know, not to forget them, and that’s I think a risk now is to — is to forget things that we — that we learned. That’s just human nature over time.

I saw the article you’re talking about, the question is, did Congress take things away, emergency powers from the Fed? So, there was sort of a trade for taking away our power under 13, section 13(3) to provide support to individual non-banks, which is really holding companies and other companies. In exchange for that, we got order liquidation authority and a resolution authority. Was it a mistake? I don’t think there’s any sense that Congress would seriously look at changing that. I have real doubts about whether it was wise to take away our crisis-fighting tools. I think you put them away, and you hope you never need them, and I certainly strongly oppose efforts to take away more of our tools.

You know, the third thing you mentioned is the designation power, so it’s a really important power. In my mind, it should be used — my thinking, it should be used sparingly, and that means, you know, in situations where you have — I mean, in principle, you could have another Lehman Brothers come up out of the ground that’s not a bank, and it could be very threatening — or it could be capable of creating systemic risk, and so I think it’s a critical power to have. But, again, I would use it — I would tend to use it fairly sparingly.

also:

VIRGINIE MONTET. Virginie Montet with Agence France Presse. You mentioned earlier a possible, not probably correction, and I want to come back to the high level of the stock market. Are there any participants to the FOMC to think that we are witnessing an episode of irrational exuberance or rational exuberance? And if there was a steep correction, would it provoke financial stability concerns?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, I don’t comment on the appropriateness of the level of stock prices. I can say that by some valuation measures they’re in the upper range of their historical value ranges. But, you know, I wouldn’t want to — I wouldn’t want to speculate about what the consequences of a market correction should be. You know, we would — we would look very carefully at the nature of it and I mean it — really, really what hurts is if consumers are borrowing heavily and doing so against, for example, an asset that can fall into value, so that’s a really serious matter when you have a housing bubble and highly levered consumers, and housing values fall. We know that that’s a really bad situation. A simple drop in equity prices is, all by itself, doesn’t really have those features. It could certainly feature — it could certainly affect consumption and have a negative effect on the economy though.

 

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2923.15 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s June 13, 2018 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, June 13, 2018 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled June 2018 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of June 13, 2018, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement” and “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, June 2018“ (pdf).

From Jerome Powell’s opening comments:

Good afternoon and thank you for being here. I know that a number of you will want to talk about the details of our announcement today, and I am happy to do that in a few minutes. But because monetary policy affects everyone, I want to start with a plain-English summary of how the economy is doing, what my colleagues and I at the Federal Reserve are trying to do, and why. The main takeaway is that the economy is doing very well.

Most people who want to find jobs are finding them, and unemployment and inflation are low. Interest rates have been low for some years while the economy has been recovering from the financial crisis. For the past few years, we have been gradually raising interest rates, and along the way, we have tried to explain the reasoning behind our decisions. In particular, we think that gradually returning interest rates to a more normal level as the economy strengthens is the best way the Fed can help sustain an environment in which American households and businesses can thrive. Today, we have taken another step in that process by raising our target range for the federal funds rate by a quarter of a percentage point.

also:

After many years of running below our 2 percent longer-run objective, inflation has recently moved close to that level. Indeed, overall consumer prices, as measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures, increased 2 percent over the 12 months ending in April. The core PCE index, which excludes the prices of energy and food and tends to be a better indicator of future inflation, rose 1.8 percent over the same period. As we had expected, inflation moved up as the unusually low readings from last March dropped out of the calculation. The recent inflation data have been encouraging, but after many years of inflation below our objective, we do not want to declare victory. We want to ensure that inflation remains near our symmetric 2 percent longer-run goal on a sustained basis. As we note in our Statement of Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy, the Committee would be concerned if inflation were running persistently above or below our 2 percent objective. Of course, many factors affect inflation, some temporary and others more lasting, and at any given time inflation may be above or below 2 percent. For example, the recent rise in oil prices will likely push inflation somewhat above 2 percent in coming months. But that transitory development should have little if any consequence for inflation over the next few years. The median of participants’ projections for inflation runs at 2.1 percent through 2020. Relative to the March projections, the median inflation projection is a little higher this year and next.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

STEVE LIESMAN. Steve Liesman, CNBC. Mr. Chairman, you said there’s a difference of opinion among economists. But looking at the longer-run GDP growth rates for the members of the Committee, there’s not a whole lot of differences. It’s one 8 to 2, or one 7 to 2, 1, depending upon how you count it. Is that showing us that not a single member of the Committee, including yourself, Mr. Chairman, agrees with economists over at the White House that they can achieve long-run sustained growth rates above or at 3 percent or higher? Do you believe in that?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. You know, first of all, that’s a — that’s a reasonable range, I think, of — it’s not that we’re all on the same number. But there are a range of views about potential growth. And there’s so much uncertainty around this. You know, we don’t — the thing about fiscal policy is, you don’t have thousands of incidents to, you know, to — you don’t have big data, in a way. You have very small data. You’ve got only a few instances here, so you have a lot of uncertainty around what the effects will be. They could be large. We hope they’re large. But I think our approach is going to be to watch and see and hope that in fact, we do get significant effects to, you know, to potential growth out of the tax bill and we’re just going to have to see. I think we’re looking at a reasonable range of estimates and we’re putting every — different participants are putting different estimates in and we’re going to be waiting and seeing.

also:

MARTIN CRUTSINGER. Marty Crutsinger, Associated Press. At this meeting, you hiked your — the funds rate, you changed the dot plot to move from 3 to 4 for this year, and you took out a sentence that you’d been using for years about how long rates might stay low. But you say that none of this signals a change in policy views. But shouldn’t we see from this combination of things that the Fed is moving to tighter policy?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. I think what you should see is that the economy is continuing to make progress. The economy has strengthened so much since I joined the Fed, you know, in 2012 and even over the last couple of years. The economy is in a very different place. We — unemployment was 10 percent at the height of the crisis. It’s 3.8 percent now and moving lower. So, really what you — the decision you see today is another sign that the U.S. economy is in great shape. Growth is strong, labor markets are strong, inflation is close to target, and that’s what you’re seeing. For many years, as I mentioned, many years, we had interest rates held low to support economic activity. And it’s been clear that as we’ve gotten closer to our statutory goals, we should normalize policy, and that’s really what we’ve been consistently doing for some years now.

HEATHER LONG. Heather Long from the Washington Post. Can you give us an update on what the FOMC thinks about wages? Are we finally going to see that wage growth pick up this year? I know you’re forecasting a little bit more inflation, but is that going to translate through to wage growth?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. You know, wages have been gradually moving up. Earlier in the recovery, they were — there are many different wage measures, of course, but — so just — but just the generalized wages were running roughly around 2 percent and they’ve moved gradually up into between 2 to 3 percent, as the labor market has become stronger and stronger. I think it’s fair to say that some of us — and I certainly would have expected wages to react more to the very significant reduction in unemployment that we’ve had, as I mentioned, from 10 percent to 3.8 percent. Part of that can be explained by low productivity, which is something we’ve talked about at the Committee and elsewhere. But nonetheless, I think we had anticipated and many people have anticipated that wages — that in a world where we’re hearing lots and lots about labor shortages — everywhere we go now, we hear about labor shortages, but where is the wage reaction? So, it’s a bit of a puzzle. I wouldn’t say it’s a mystery, but it’s a bit of a puzzle. And frankly, I do think there’s a lot to like about low unemployment. And one of the things is, you will see pretty much people who want to get jobs — not everybody — but people who want to get jobs, many of them will be able to get jobs. You will see wages go up. You’ll see people at the — sort of the margins of the labor force having an opportunity to get back in work. They benefit from that. Society benefits from that. So, there are a lot of things to really like, including higher wages, as you asked. Our role though, is also to, you know, to make sure that that maximum employment happens in a context of price stability and financial stability, which is why we’re gradually raising rates.

also:

VICTORIA GUIDA. I have a couple of regulatory questions. First of all, on the counter cyclical capital buffer, I was wondering, what are the chances that the Fed is going to need to use that in the next year or two? And then my second question is, there’s been a lot of talk lately in Congress about the ability for banks to serve marijuana businesses, and I was wondering if you think that banks should be able to serve those businesses in states where marijuana is legal?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, the counter cyclical capital buffer gives us the ability to raise capital requirements on the largest institutions, when financial stability vulnerabilities are meaningfully above normal, that’s the language that we’ve used. And that’s certainly a possibility. I wouldn’t say that — I wouldn’t look at today’s financial stability landscape and say that risks are meaningfully above normal. I would say that they’re roughly at normal. You have — you know, households are well — you know, are in good shape. They’re — they’ve pay down their debt, incomes are rising, people have jobs. So, households are not really a concern. And banks are highly capitalized, so that’s not really a concern. We see — there’s some concern with asset prices in a couple of pockets. But overall, if you if you bake it all in, I think we see generally financial vulnerabilities as moderate. Could that change, you asked, over a couple of years? Yeah, they could. You also asked about marijuana businesses. So, this is a very difficult area because we have state law — many state laws permit the use of marijuana and federal law still doesn’t. So, it puts, you know, federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation. I think it would be great if that could be clarified. We don’t have, you know — it puts the supervisor in a very, very difficult position. And, of course, this isn’t — our mandate has nothing to do with marijuana, so we don’t really — we just would love to see it clarified, I think.

also:

STEVEN BECKNER. Steve Beckner, Mr. Chairman, freelance journalist reporting for NPR. About financial conditions, which worries you more, warnings that rising short-term rates are bringing the yield curve closer to inversion, or the fact that long rates have risen very slowly and in fact are nearly 20 basis points below their recent high? How do you account for the fact that long rates have been so slow to rise? And what does it say about the inflation outlook as well?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, let me — let me briefly mention the yield curve. I mean, I — the yield curve is something that people are talking about a lot, including FOMC participants. And I — they have a range of views. It’s something we’re going to continue to be talking about, it’s — but it’s only one of many things, of course, that we talk about. I think that that discussion is really about what is appropriate policy, and how do we think about policy as we approach the neutral rate. How do we understand what the neutral rate is? How do we know where it is? And what are the consequences of being above or below it? That’s really what — when people are talking about the slope of the yield curve, that’s really what they’re talking about. We know why – we know why the yield curve is flattening, it’s because we’re raising the federal funds rate. It makes all the sense in the world that the short end would come up. I think you asked the harder question is, what’s happening with long rates. And there are many things that move long rates around. Of course, there’s an embedded expectation of the path of short rates. There’s the term premium, which has been very low, by historical standards, and so arguments are made that a flatter yield curve has less of a signal embedded in it. In addition, I think what you saw most recently that you referred to, Steve, was just risk-on risk-off. In a risk-off environment, people want to own U.S Treasuries and you see, you know, Treasury prices go up, rates go down quite a lot. So — but I think ultimately, you know, what we’re — what we really care about is what’s the appropriate stance of policy. And there’s a — there may be a signal in that long-term rate about what is the neutral rate and I think that’s why people are paying attention to the yield curve.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER. Nancy Marshall-Genzer with Marketplace. Companies are buying back their shares at a record rate. Corporate debt is up. Consumer debt is rising. Are we in a credit bubble? Is that something that you’re worried about?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. So, if you look at households, you do not see excess credit growth. You don’t see high levels of credit going out, so not so much households. And that really was where the problems were before the financial crisis was, particularly in — among household borrowing, and particularly around mortgages. With — if you take banks, then of course, their leverage is significantly lower, or to say it differently, their capital is significantly higher. If you ask about non-financial corporates, that’s really where leverage is at levels that are high relative to history. But defaults are low, interest rates are low, you know, so it’s something — that’s something we’re watching very carefully. But again, I don’t think we see it as — I think there are a range of views on that, but we are watching non-financial corporates. Households are in good shape though, and that is — that is so important because that’s where — you know, that’s where we got into trouble before. And that’s — it’s often around property and particularly housing, where you see real problems emerge. We don’t really see that now, so we take some solace from that.

 

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2772.86 as this post is written

Jerome Powell’s March 21, 2018 Press Conference – Notable Aspects

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018 Jerome Powell gave his scheduled March 2018 FOMC Press Conference. (link of video and related materials)

Below are Jerome Powell’s comments I found most notable – although I don’t necessarily agree with them – in the order they appear in the transcript.  These comments are excerpted from the “Transcript of Chairman Powell’s Press Conference“ (preliminary)(pdf) of March 21, 2018, with the accompanying “FOMC Statement” and “Economic Projections of Federal Reserve Board Members and Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, March 2018“ (pdf).

From Jerome Powell’s opening comments:

Job gains averaged 240,000 per month over the past three months, well above the pace needed in the longer run to absorb new entrants into the labor force.  The unemployment rate remained low in February at 4.1 percent, while the labor force participation rate moved higher.  Over the past four years, the participation rate has remained roughly unchanged.  That’s a sign of improvement, given that the aging of our population is putting downward pressure on the participation rate, and we expect that the job market will remain strong.

Although the growth rates of household spending and business investment appear to have moderated early this year, gains in the fourth quarter were strong and the fundamentals underpinning demand remain solid.  Indeed, the economic outlook has strengthened in recent months.  Several factors are supporting the outlook: fiscal policy has become more stimulative, ongoing job gains are boosting incomes and confidence, foreign growth is on a firm trajectory, and overall financial conditions remain accommodative.

Jerome Powell’s responses as indicated to the various questions:

MICHAEL DERBY. I’m Mike Derby from Dow Jones Newswires. I have a question about the future of the mechanics of monetary policy. I wanted to know whether you favor sticking with the system that you have now of keeping interest on excess reserves and reverse repo–the reverse repo rate to control interest rates, or do you want to shift back to the old way of doing things at some point of targeting the fed funds market? And, do you have any concern that if you do stick with the current system that as rates rise that you might see issues where the Fed is under–is being criticized for paying out ever larger shares of money to banks, you know, to control interest rates that some might perceive as a subsidy to the banks that are getting this money?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Sure. Our current framework for implementing monetary policy is working very well. We have excellent control over rates, and it’s working. And it’s–you described it accurately. We haven’t made a decision to keep that as our longer-run framework. We haven’t really addressed that question. We’ve had meetings where we’ve talked about it, and we’ve agreed that it’s working well. But it’s–and it’s not something I see us as needing to urgently address. I think we’re continuing to learn about this framework. For example, one, in the longrun, the size of the balance sheet’s going to depend on the public’s demand for our liabilities, including currency and reserves. So, we don’t know what the demand is for reserves in a world where you have, you know, you have regulations that require banks to hold lots of high quality liquid assets, and reserves are one of those. So, it’s not something we’re looking at resolving in the near-term.

You mentioned the question of interest on excess reserves, and I think it’s a little bit of a misnomer to think that there’s a subsidy there. We pay interest on excess reserves. We can’t pay interest in excess reserves that is above the general level of short-term interest rates. So, we’re paying rates that banks can get from other interest rates from any other investment in the shortterm money markets. In addition, remember that those liabilities–those are our liabilities. The assets that we have on the other side are treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, which we yield much higher than interest on reserves. So, in fact, it’s not a subsidy, and it’s not a cost to the taxpayer.

also:

GREG ROBB. Over here. Thank you, Chairman. Thank you very much. Greg Robb from MarketWatch. Several of your colleagues recently have been speaking and expressing concern about financial imbalances and rising signs of financial imbalances. I was wondering if you could give us your view on the asset markets. Are–do you see any bubbles? And do you have the tools you need, you think, to combat those? Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN POWELL. Since the financial crisis, we’ve been monitoring financial conditions and financial stability issues very carefully, and the FOMC receives regular briefings about the staff framework and sort of measures of various aspects of financial stability risks, and the current view of the Committee is that financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate, let’s say, and I’ll go through a couple of pieces of that.

So, if you look at the banking system, particularly the large financial institutions, you see higher capital. You see much higher liquidity. You see them more aware of their risks and better able to manage them with stress testing. And if one–if something does go wrong, you’ve got better ability to deal with the failure of those institutions. So, therefore, you don’t see high leverage. You don’t see excess risk-taking in great quantity the way you see before the crisis. If you look at households, household balance sheets are in much better condition. If you look at nonfinancial corporations, you see–you do see relatively elevated levels of borrowing, but nothing that suggests, you know, serious risks. And, of course, default rates are very low. So, those readings look okay. I should mention also that for large financial institutions, they’re no longer funded by a lot of short-term wholesale funding, which can disappear very quickly. So, they’re far less vulnerable to liquidity issues. Overall, those aspects, I think, suggest low levels of vulnerability.

You identified the, really, one area where, which is an area of focus, which is asset prices. So, in some areas, asset prices are elevated relative to their longer-run historical norms. You can think of some equity prices. You can think of commercial real estate prices in certain markets. But we don’t see it in housing, which is key. And so, overall, if you put all of that into a pie, what you have is moderate vulnerabilities in our view. In terms of whether we have the tools, you know, we have some tools, and I think we certainly will use them. We have–I think the stress test is a really important tool that we have for the largest financial institutions and for the smaller financial institutions. We regularly use that to–as a way to test against various, you know, market shocks, certainly for the larger institutions.

also:

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER. Nancy Marshall-Genzer with Marketplace. Does the interest rate hike today suggest that Americans are being paid enough? Are you satisfied with the rate of wage growth right now?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. As I mentioned, you know, we’ve had unemployment decline sharply since, I guess, 2010, when it peaked at 10 percent and down to 4.1 percent now, and we’ve seen only modest increases in wages. So, on the one hand, what wages should in theory represent is inflation plus productivity increases. You should get paid for your productivity plus inflation, and productivity’s been very low. Inflation’s been low. So, these low wage increases, in a sense, they do make sense in that–from that perspective.

On the other hand, as the market is tightened, as labor markets have tightened, and we hear reports of labor shortages that we see that, you know, groups of unemployed are diminishing, and the unemployment rate is going down, we haven’t seen, you know, higher wages, wages going up more. And I would–I think I’ve been surprised by that, and I think others have as well. In terms of what’s the right level, I don’t think I have a view on what the right level of wages is, but I think we will know that the labor market is getting tight when we do see a more meaningful upward move in wages.

also:

MYLES UDLAND. Thanks. Myles Udland, Yahoo Finance. Chair Powell, I’m curious if the Fed would be willing to tolerate an inverted yield curve. We continue to see these spread between the two-year and the 10-year tighten, even with longer-term yields coming up since the beginning of the year. This is a dynamic that has typically preceded recessions, and we’re likely to see shorter-term rates come up as the Fed continues to increase rates. So, I’m just curious if you guys have discussed that, if you’d be willing to push back against that, or if that’s a dynamic you’d be comfortable with?

CHAIRMAN POWELL. You know, it’s an interesting question, and there are a range of views there. I think it’s true that yield curves have tended to predict recessions if you look back over many cycles, but a lot of that was just situations in which inflation was allowed to get out of control, and the Fed had to tighten, and that put the economy into a recession. That’s really not the situation we’re in now, so I don’t know that that’s–I don’t know that–I don’t think that recession probabilities are particularly high at the moment, any higher than they normally are. But, having said that, I think it’s–there are good questions about what a flat yield curve or inverted yield curve does to intermediation. It’s hard to find in the research data, but nonetheless, I think those are issues that we’ll be watching carefully.

 

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The Special Note summarizes my overall thoughts about our economic situation

SPX at 2686.76 as this post is written