Fed chief sees potential headwinds to growth

A shopping mall in Las Vegas. The US economy expanded at a 3.5 per cent annual pace in the third quarter on the back of strong consumer spending, with unemployment at the lowest level since 1969.
A shopping mall in Las Vegas. The US economy expanded at a 3.5 per cent annual pace in the third quarter on the back of strong consumer spending, with unemployment at the lowest level since 1969.PHOTO: REUTERS

Policymakers must weigh how far and fast to raise rates, he says

NEW YORK • Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said the United States economy is strong but could face headwinds next year as policymakers weigh how far and fast to raise interest rates.

"We have to be thinking about how much further to raise rates, and the pace at which we will raise rates," Mr Powell said during a question-and-answer session on Wednesday in Dallas moderated by Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan.

The Fed chairman said the goal is to "extend the recovery, expansion, and to keep unemployment low, to keep inflation low".

While generally upbeat about the US economic outlook, Mr Powell listed potential challenges including slowing growth abroad, fading fiscal stimulus and the lagged effect on the economy of the Fed's eight rate increases since late 2015.

"These are things we are well aware of, though. We know that when we're making policy and we think about those, and (we) kind of have a sense of what they might be," he said.

Mr Powell's comments highlight the growing complexity the Fed faces as it sets policy. The US central bank's rate increases are starting to bind on some segments of the economy, such as housing, and financial conditions are tightening.

However, the jobs market remains red-hot, while inflation is at its 2 per cent target.

The US economy expanded at a 3.5 per cent annual pace in the third quarter on the back of strong consumer spending, with unemployment at the lowest level since 1969.

"I do believe our economy can grow and grow faster," Mr Powell said.

US central bankers are pursuing a policy of gradualism, with three rate increases so far this year and a fourth pencilled in for next month. The campaign, though, has attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump, who has attacked the Fed for raising rates.

"We are absolutely committed to serving the public in a non-partisan, professional way, in a way that communicates what we're doing and why we're doing it as clearly as possible," Mr Powell said.

He played down recent stock market turbulence, which saw US equity prices suffer their steepest loss last month since 2011, noting that equity price moves were only one of the many factors that the Fed takes into account.

The Fed chief also stressed that his plans to hold press conferences following all eight of the Fed's meetings in 2019 will help policy agility, and get financial markets away from the idea that the Fed has the potential to change policy only four times a year, lining up with the current press conference cycle.

"The markets definitely got in the habit of having us only move on press conference meetings," Mr Powell said. "Over time, the market's going to have to get used to that."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2018, with the headline 'Fed chief sees potential headwinds to growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe