Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the central bank is focused on getting rapid inflation under control and that it is ready to intensify its efforts to tamp down price pressures if they do not begin to ease as policymakers expect.
“What we need to see is clear and convincing evidence that inflation pressures are abating and inflation is coming down — and if we don’t see that, then we’ll have to consider moving more aggressively,” Mr. Powell said, speaking Tuesday afternoon on livestream hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “If we do see that, then we can consider moving to a slower pace.”
Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the prior year, and while inflation eased somewhat on an annual basis, the details of the report suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.
The central bank has begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, announcing a quarter-point increase in March and a half-point increase earlier this month, which was the Fed’s largest increase since 2000. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push borrowing costs higher as they attempt to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance.
They could raise rates by half-percentage-point increments at each of the Fed’s next two meetings, Mr. Powell suggested after the central bank’s May meeting. He repeated that message on Tuesday.
Understand Inflation and How It Impacts You
“There was very broad support on the committee for having on the table the idea of doing additional rate increases of that magnitude at each of the next two meetings,” Mr. Powell said. “That’s short of a prediction.”
While Mr. Powell emphasized the economic outlook is very uncertain, he and his colleagues have suggested that they want to push interest rates up to a neutral setting — a place where they are neither stoking nor slowing growth — “expeditiously.” But Mr. Powell suggested that officials are willing to raise rates beyond that if it is necessary to do so to control inflation.
“We won’t hesitate at all to do that,” he said. “We will go until we feel like we’re at a place where we can say, ‘Yes, financial conditions are at an appropriate place, we see inflation coming down.’”
The Fed chair said that the central bank can no longer simply hope that supply chain issues improve and help inflation to fade, and that it has to instead be proactive in trying to restrain prices by cooling down the economy.
“We clearly have a job to do on demand — there is an imbalance in the economy broadly between demand and supply,” Mr. Powell said. He pointed in particular to the labor market, where workers are in short supply and wages are rising swiftly as employers compete to hire them.
What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
“There’s more demand for workers than there are people available to work,” he said. “There’s a pathway for us to use our tools to try to moderate demand.”
He noted that the Fed lacks “precision tools” and that the central bank will have to slow the economy in the process of slowing down prices. Getting inflation down could be painful, he said, but he reiterated his hope for a “soft-ish” economic landing.
“Restoring price stability is an unconditional need — it’s something we have to do,” Mr. Powell said, calling price stability “the bedrock of the economy.”