Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's recent remarks at an IMF meeting in Washington, DC, reflected the central bank's commitment to addressing inflation concerns. Powell acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the achievement of the 2% inflation goal, emphasizing the potential need for further interest rate hikes to tighten policy.
Powell, who has faced security concerns after being interrupted twice in the previous month, mentioned that the Fed is carefully assessing the risk of inflation resurgence versus the potential economic damage. The central bank may raise interest rates at its upcoming December policy meeting, although Fed funds rate futures indicate investor optimism about a possible rate rise pause next month.
Concerns about inflation were evident in Powell's comments, as he highlighted the role of the unwinding of pandemic-related supply and demand distortions in the decline of inflation. Powell emphasized that while the U.S. economy grew by 4.9% annually in the third quarter due to strong consumer expenditure, demand may need to slow for the central bank to ensure a sustained decline in inflation.
Following Powell's remarks, financial markets reacted, with stocks dipping and rates rising. The S&P 500 fell by 0.8%, the Nasdaq Composite plunged 1%, and the Dow declined by 0.7%. Powell's desire for lower demand stems from the belief that strong demand is contributing to higher prices, prompting the Fed to consider using higher interest rates to restrain demand and combat inflation.
Powell acknowledged that interest rates are at a 22-year high, and the Fed is inclined to keep them elevated. However, he also noted that the U.S. economy may be structurally resilient to higher interest rates, citing homeowners who are locked in ultra-low mortgage rates and are not selling despite rising home loan rates.
In discussing the potential weakening of the U.S. economy, Powell mentioned that tight monetary policy restricting aggregate demand may need to play a more significant role in lowering inflation. The central bank's September economic projections suggested fewer rate cuts next year than initially expected.
Despite Powell's stance, other Fed officials hinted at a possible delay in rate hikes. Interim St. Louis Fed President Kathleen O'Neill Paese, in a speech in Jeffersonville, Indiana, pointed to the labor market's persistent slowdown and recent Treasury yields' run-up as factors supporting the Fed's decision to maintain rates constant. Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin suggested that the full effects of the 11 rate hikes may not have been felt yet, indicating a cautious approach.
As the Fed carefully navigates the delicate balance between inflation control and economic stability, ongoing economic uncertainty and varying opinions among Fed officials add layers of complexity to the decision-making process. The central bank will closely monitor the bond market to determine its future policy moves.