Powell: Fed on track to hike rates in March

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell
Brendan Smialowski/Pool via Associated Press

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will tell lawmakers Wednesday the central bank will likely hike interest rates later this month with inflation “well above” the central bank’s target range.

The Fed chief is set to tell members of the House Financial Services Committee that bank officials “expect it will be appropriate” to raise the baseline interest range from its current level of zero to 0.25 percent, according to prepared remarks released ahead of Powell’s appearance before the panel.

“We understand that high inflation imposes significant hardship, especially on those least able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing, and transportation. We know that the best thing we can do to support a strong labor market is to promote a long expansion, and that is only possible in an environment of price stability,” Powell will say.

The Fed slashed interest rates to near-zero levels in March 2020 as the emerging coronavirus pandemic derailed the global economy. The Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s monetary policy panel, is on track to hike interest rates at the conclusion of its meeting on March 15-16, almost two years to the day it cut rates to current levels.

Powell will highlight the rapid recovery of the U.S. economy from the depth of the pandemic-driven recession, including the record-breaking gain of 6.7 million jobs in 2021 and economic growth of 5.5 percent. The Fed chief credited the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines along with substantial fiscal and monetary support deployed by the federal government in 2020 for the swift rebound.

Even so, the speed of the recovery also fueled a rapid rise in prices as it ran up against stubborn pandemic-related obstacles, Powell will note.

“As a result, employers are having difficulties filling job openings, an unprecedented number of workers are quitting to take new jobs, and wages are rising at their fastest pace in many years,” Powell will say.

“Demand is strong, and bottlenecks and supply constraints are limiting how quickly production can respond. These supply disruptions have been larger and longer lasting than anticipated, exacerbated by waves of the virus, and price increases are now spreading to a broader range of goods and services.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the unprecedented financial sanctions imposed on Moscow by the U.S. and Western allies will also have unknown implications for the Fed’s fight against inflation, Powell will say.

“The near-term effects on the U.S. economy of the invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing war, the sanctions, and of events to come, remain highly uncertain,” Powell will say. 

“We will need to be nimble in responding to incoming data and the evolving outlook.” 

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