The US economy is healthy enough to absorb gradual rate increases and the reduction of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, Fed Chair Janet Yellen testimony before Congress on July 12, 2017.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Wednesday that the bank hopes to keep raising a key interest rate and also intends to begin this year, the reduction of its bond holdings.
Yellen took note of several factors, such as household wealth and job gains that she said should fuel growth.
In what could be one of her last appearances on Capitol Hill, Yellen portrayed a market that, while growing gradually, continued to add jobs, gained from continuous household consumption and a recent leap in business investment, and was currently being supported too by stronger economic conditions overseas.
She blamed the economic slowdown in the first half of 2017 on inflation. She said Fed officials are watching developments closely to be certain price gains go back toward the 2 percent inflation target of the Fed.
Janet Yellen Testimony Freak Out Over Inflation
Janet Yellen seemed a little freaked out over the big drop in inflation over the last few months.
I take Yellen’s comments on inflation to mean that the economy should not have the CPI plunging in this part of the economic cycle. In fact, just the opposite should be occurring. But she added that it was considered by officials as an anomaly; inflation is predicted by the Fed next year.
Many economists believe the Fed, which has raised rates three times, will increase rates yet another time this year.
The Fed continues to anticipate that the development of the market economy will justify gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time while reductions in the Fed’s holdings of more than $4 trillion in securities will probably start “this year”.
In her prepared testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Janet Yellen testimony repeated the message she’s been sending: the market has improved enough that it no longer requires the support the central bank began providing in 2008 in the aftermath of a serious financial crisis and the deepest recession since the 1930s.
In light of the continuing expansion, the Fed plans to keep raising its benchmark rate of interest and to lower its investment holdings, Ms. Yellen said in prepared testimony. She did not offer details concerning the time of the next actions of the Fed. Analysts expect the Fed to begin shaving its bond portfolio before the end of 2017.
The economy began the year with a slow growth rate of just 1.4 percent, it has regained momentum in recent months, aided by strong job gains, a revival of business investment and a strengthening of international markets.
Bottom line: the market is at full employment and the Fed is moving rates. As the Fed reinvests some of the bond holdings which mature monthly, they will decrease that reinvestment to reduce their balance sheet which will mark the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening). Many believe that QT began this year when the Fed did a series of rate hikes.
The Fed needs to keep policy accommodative to keep on supporting the recovery, but may hit a “neutral” rate quicker than anticipated. Estimates are that inflation has been dropping so fast that we could be near zero right now. Yellen has said the Fed expects estimates of the inflation rate to grow over time.
Yellen said in her testimony that as it stands rates “might not need to rise all that much farther” to reach neutral.
Yellen said growth remains moderate with business investment and consumer spending picking up, and the US economy is benefiting from growth in other countries too.
A strengthening in economic development abroad has provided significant support for U.S. manufacturing production and exports, Yellen said.
The Fed slashed its key policy rate to near zero to fight the worst economic recession since the 1930s, and kept it there for seven years before nudging it higher in December 2015. It left the rate unchanged before increasing it again in December 2016, March 2017, and June 2017 of this year.
At its June meeting, the Fed indicated that it expected to start decreasing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet after this year, a measure that could put slow upward pressure on longer-term prices for such things as home mortgages.
Yellen said, the market seemed to be in a virtuous loop of hiring, investment and spending which should increase resource usage somewhat further, thereby fostering a quicker rate of wage growth and price increases.
The Janet Yellen testimony was fairly uneventful except for her comments on falling inflation which seemed to baffle the Fed as to why this was happening at this point during the economic cycle.