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Powell: Economy in favorable place in face of significant risks

The three eras of monetary policy

The economy today is thriving with economic expansion entering its 11th year and becoming the longest on record, said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he explained that this is despite significant risks.

At the Federal Reserve symposium entitled Challenges for Monetary Policy, Powell spoke about the state of the economy, and what the future could hold. He cited the falling unemployment rate and rising labor force participation. Powell reminded the U.S. that African Americans are seeing the lowest unemployment since the government began tracking in 1972 – 6%.

“Our challenge now is to do what monetary policy can do to sustain the expansion so that the benefits of the strong jobs market extend to more of those still left behind, and so that inflation is centered firmly around 2%,” Powell said in his prepared remarks.

This speech comes just days after the Federal Open Markets Committee released its minutes from its July meeting, showing more rate cuts are likely through the end of 2020.

At the end of its most recent July meeting, the Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point in a bid to keep the longest economic expansion in U.S. history from petering out. It was the first reduction since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

Powell explained that the global growth outlook has been deteriorating since the middle of last year, and there are three factors weighing against the current economic expansion in the U.S.: slowing global growth, trade policy uncertainty and muted inflation.

“Trade policy uncertainty seems to be playing a role in the global slowdown and in weak manufacturing and capital spending in the United States,” he said. “Inflation fell below our objective at the start of the year. It appears to be moving back up closer to our symmetric 2% objective, but there are concerns about a more prolonged shortfall.”

But those aren’t the only risks to the current economic expansion. From Powell’s prepared remarks:

Turning to the current context, we are carefully watching developments as we assess their implications for the U.S. outlook and the path of monetary policy. The three weeks since our July FOMC meeting have been eventful, beginning with the announcement of new tariffs on imports from China. We have seen further evidence of a global slowdown, notably in Germany and China. Geopolitical events have been much in the news, including the growing possibility of a hard Brexit, rising tensions in Hong Kong, and the dissolution of the Italian government. Financial markets have reacted strongly to this complex, turbulent picture. Equity markets have been volatile. Long-term bond rates around the world have moved down sharply to near post-crisis lows. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has continued to perform well overall, driven by consumer spending. Job creation has slowed from last year’s pace but is still above overall labor force growth. Inflation seems to be moving up closer to 2%. Based on our assessment of the implications of these developments, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2% objective.

Powell said that history since World War II can be divided into three eras: the Great Inflation, the Great Moderation and the Great Recession.

“Each era presents a key question for the Fed and for society more generally,” Powell stated. “The first era raises the question whether a central bank can resist the temptations that led to the Great Inflation.”

“The second era raises the question whether long expansions supported by better monetary policy inevitably lead to destabilizing financial excesses like those seen in the Great Moderation,” he continued. “The third era confronts us with the question of how best to promote sustained prosperity in a world of slow global growth, low inflation and low interest rates.”

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