Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s press conference Wednesday is just how committed he is to keeping his foot on the accelerator even as the economy is poised to boom.
“I just don’t see why anyone doubts the Fed’s commitment to their strategy. They are all in. Powell just doesn’t blink,” tweeted Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“While the recovery has progressed more quickly than generally expected, it remains uneven and far from complete,” Powell said in remarks after the bank’s regular two-day meeting among senior officials.
Powell also addressed one of the Fed’s most vocal critics — former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who thinks the Fed’s easy policy stance is risky, especially in light of the massive stimulus packages passed and planned by a Congress controlled by Democrats.
Asked about Summers, Powell spent five minutes pushing back against his concerns, leading one economist to tweet a GIF of Michael Jordan dunking:
In addition to Powell’s resolve, here are some other things we learned from Powell’s press conference:
Will the Fed start to talk about slowing down the $120 billion per month in asset purchases?
“No. it is not time yet,” Powell said.
He repeated it would be “some time” before the Fed has that conversation. Some economists think the earliest this might happen is at the Fed’s next meeting in June, but more are thinking Powell might use his annual speech at the Jackson Hole, Wyo., conference in late August to start that conversation.
The housing market is not a bubble
Powell said he was somewhat uneasy about the runup in housing prices, saying it was not an “unalloyed good,” but gave no hint that the Fed is thinking about thinking about getting involved. He pegged the problem on lack of supply and high demand. “My hope would be that, over time, housing builders can react to this demand and come up with more supply,” Powell said. “We don’t have that kind of thing where we have a housing bubble where people are over levered,” he said.
Asked why the Fed needed to buy $40 million per month of mortgage-backed securities if the housing market was so strong, Powell said the purchases “are not meant to provide direct help to the housing market.” He repeated the Fed will taper when the time comes.
Fed won’t let inflation overheat
Powell said the economy is facing “unprecedented events,” but that the Fed thinks price pressures will be temporary. “If inflation were to move persistently and materially above 2%,” the Fed would use its tools to bring inflation down. “We’re all very familiar with the history of the 1960s. That is a very different situation,” he said. “We understand our job,” he said.
Powell sees “froth” in financial markets
Many economists think the main impact of the Fed’s asset purchases will be rising asset prices. Powell seemed to raise his level of concern here. “You are seeing things in capital markets that are a bit frothy,” he said. And Fed policy does play a role, he said.
“Overall financial stability picture is mixed, but on balance, it is manageable,” he said.
Powell says it will take time for labor market supply and demand to balance
Powell has been consistent in his belief that the Fed is “a long way” from its goals primarily because of a weak labor market, where 8.5 million fewer Americans are working now than before the pandemic. At the same time, employers are complaining to the Fed that they can’t find workers for their vacancies.
Powell said “a number of things” were at play and that he thought the equilibrium between labor supply and demand might take some months to achieve. The Fed chairman said the lack of workers wasn’t all caused by the pandemic, as some workers lack skills and don’t live where there are job openings. The effects of the pandemic linger as some schools are yet to reopen and some workers remain afraid of catching COVID-19. In addition, a sizeable number of people have reported that they have decided to retire and its too soon to know if they will change their minds. Jobless benefits may also be playing a role, he said. Wages haven’t moved up yet, which would happen in a tight labor market.
The 10-year Treasury note
inched lower after Powell’s press conference, ending the session at 1.614%.
Stocks finished lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average
down 164.55 points.