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Powell defends Fed’s approach to monetary policy

Expects to continue raising interest rates

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell defended the Fed’s current approach to monetary policy in a speech at the Jackson Hole symposium on Friday. 

“I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the FOMC's approach to taking seriously both of these risks,” Powell said in his opening remarks, referring to the risks of moving to slow and risking a destabilizing overheating versus moving too fast and shortening the expansion.

These remarks come just days after President Donald Trump reportedly complained to Republican donors at a fundraiser in the Hamptons that Powell was raising interest rates.

This is the second instance in two months where Trump has publicly called the Fed's decision to raise interest rates into question. Back in July, Trump said he was “not thrilled” with the rate increases.

However, Powell reassured senators on Wednesday that the central bank remains independent, despite the pressure from Trump. Powell also commented to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that he has not had any conversations with the president regarding interest rates.

Now, the Fed chair is commenting on the state of the U.S. economy, saying it remains positive and increases to the federal funds rate will likely continue.

“While inflation has recently moved up near 2%, we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2%, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating,” Powell said. “This is good news, and we believe that this good news results in part from the ongoing normalization process, which has moved the stance of policy gradually closer to the FOMC's rough assessment of neutral as the expansion has continued.”

“As the most recent FOMC statement indicates, if the strong growth in income and jobs continues, further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate,” he said.

In the minutes from its most recent July 31 to August 1 meeting, the Federal Open Markets Committee gave a positive view of the economy, and all but solidified the chances of a rate hike at the September meeting this year, making it the third rate hike in 2018.

One expert pointed out that during his speech, Powell purposefully avoided any mentions to current trade policies or global risks.

“In a speech titled Monetary Policy in a Changing World, Powell deliberately avoided commenting on the latest developments on trade policy, politics, and risks from abroad,” Capital Economics Senior Economist Michael Pearce said. “Instead, he sought to outline the longer term factors that shape the Fed’s policy path, painting its current strategy of gradual rate hikes as a balancing act between moving too fast and shortening the expansion and raising rates too slowly and risking an overheating economy.”

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