By Howard Schneider
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy may be growing more quickly and unemployment falling faster than the core of Federal Reserve policymakers projected in March, Fed Governor Michelle Bowman said on Wednesday, a development that could fuel debate about the outlook for monetary policy.
Bowman said that as of March her views were in line with the median projections of her colleagues, which anticipated gross domestic product growth of 6.5% in 2021 and an unemployment rate of 4.5% by the end of the year.
But “incoming data indicate that economic activity is on an upswing, and the risks of more negative outcomes – especially those from COVID-19 – appear to be easing,” Bowman said in remarks to a Colorado economic group.
“It now appears that real gross domestic product may increase close to or even above the higher end” of the 5.8%-6.6% range most Fed officials expected when their last projections were issued at the end of the policy meeting in March. For unemployment, “it seems possible that it may fall even further … I expect the pace of job creation to remain unusually strong over the spring and summer.”
Bowman did not indicate that she felt a stronger recovery would or should shift Fed policy, which is currently committed to $120 billion in monthly bond purchases until the job market improves further, and to keep its key overnight interest rate near zero until healing from the coronavirus recession is all but complete and inflation meets the Fed’s 2% target.
Indeed, Bowman said that while inflation will rise this year, she agrees with the Fed consensus that the risk of an outsized and persistent jump in inflation “still appears small.”
Even with the expected stronger job growth, “we still have a long way to go,” she said.
The Fed reaffirmed its current policy stance in a statement following its latest two-day meeting last week. Fed officials will issue new forecasts at the next policy meeting in June.
The United States is expected to have added 978,000 jobs in April, according to a Reuters poll of economists, which would be a step towards the “substantial” progress in employment the Fed wants to see before considering any change in monetary policy.
The Labor Department will issue its employment report for April on Friday.
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