By Ann Saphir
(Reuters) – U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Friday said he remains unconvinced that current high inflation readings will turn out to be permanent, pushing back against a growing number of his more hawkish colleagues publicly fretting about price pressures.
While recent inflation readings are “a cause for concern,” Powell told the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole economic symposium, they are more than likely to recede, and responding by tightening monetary policy would be a “harmful mistake.”
The remarks appeared calibrated less to an argument against tapering the Fed’s asset purchases and more to make the case against raising interest rates soon after.
Indeed, Powell chose the speech to acknowledge that, at least as of last month’s policy meeting, he supported the Fed’s reducing its $120 billion in monthly asset purchases this year, with inflation already meeting the bar to do so, and further progress on the employment front expected.
But to raise rates the Fed has said the economy must meet a more stringent test, including not only maximum employment but also inflation that has reached and looks on track to exceed 2% for some time. “Time will tell whether we have reached 2% on a sustainable basis,” Powell said.
In the 12 months through July, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – the core PCE price index – rose 3.6% after a similar increase in June, data Friday showed; on a monthly basis, the gain was the smallest in five months.
Powell’s defense of his “temporary” view on inflation drew swift criticism from some quarters, with Harvard University’s Jason Furman saying that while it was an “excellent and coherent case,” Powell was “failing to take seriously any arguments on the other side.”
Here’s Powell’s 5-point rundown on why he isn’t perturbed:
1) IT’S NOT BROAD-BASED
Inflation so far is coming from sharply higher prices in a limited number of sectors, particularly in goods and services hit hardest by the pandemic and for which demand is now fast recovering as the economy reopens.
2) BIGGEST SURGES ALREADY RECEDING
The prices of cars and other durable goods that skyrocketed in the summer are now stabilizing or dropping. “It seems unlikely that durables inflation will continue to contribute importantly over time to overall inflation.”
3) NO THREAT FROM WAGES SO FAR
Wages are rising, but not faster than productivity gains or inflation in a way that could lead to an upward spiral. “We will continue to monitor this carefully,” he said.
Fed Chair Powell’s inflation dashboard: Wages https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-FED/JACKSONHOLE-INFLATION/movannblepa/chart.png
4) INFLATION EXPECTATIONS ANCHORED
The market-based and survey-based measures that the Fed measures indicate that inflation expectations have made a “welcome” return to levels more consistent with the Fed’s 2% goal but have not risen as fast as actual inflation, “suggesting households, businesses and market participants also believe that current high inflation readings are likely to prove transitory,” Powell said.
The Fed keys on inflation expectations https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-FED/INFLATION/jnvweekwxvw/chart.png
5) GLOBALLY, THE PRESSURE IS DOWNWARD
Factors such as aging populations in the United States and elsewhere, along with globalization and advancements in technology, are pushing down on prices globally. “There is little reason to think that they have suddenly reversed or abated,” Powell said.
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