Top Fed official says Fed far from achieving its goals

WASHINGTON — A top Federal Reserve official says the outlook for the U.S. economy is bright but the recent jobs report is a reminder that the path of the recovery is likely to be uneven and difficult to predict.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s board, said today in a virtual conference sponsored by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, that employment and inflation remain far from the Fed’s goals.

The Fed has said it will not start raising interest rates until it has achieved maximum employment and annual prices gains that have not only hit the Fed’s 2% target, but exceeded that target for a period of time.

“While more balanced than earlier this year, risks remain from vaccine hesitancy, deadlier variants and a resurgence of cases in some foreign countries,” Brainard said.

The Fed has kept its key interest rate at 0 percent to 0.25% for more than a year and signaled that it will keep rates at this level at least through 2023. Brainard’s comments Tuesday backed up the view that the Fed has no intention to change course in interest rates.

Brainard referred to last week’s job report that showed the economy created 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than March and far fewer than economists had been expecting. She said this was a signal that the Fed needs to proceed with caution before withdrawing its support.

She said that the report was “a reminder that the path of re-opening and recovery — like the shutdown — is likely to be uneven and difficult to predict, so basing monetary policy on outcomes rather than the outlook will serve us well.”

She said the path of inflation was also difficult to predict but that the most likely outcome was a brief period of “transitory” price increases with inflation then returning to the low inflation levels that the country has experienced for more than a quarter-century.

But she said she will be monitoring inflation closely in coming months to make sure this forecast of a return to lower inflation proves correct.

If a risk of higher inflation for longer becomes evident, Brainard said the Fed has “the tools and the experience to gently guide inflation back to our target. No one should doubt our commitment to do so.”

But on the other hand, she said the Fed should not dismiss risks that the re-opening proves weaker than expected because of such factors as the uncertain path for the pandemic.

“Remaining patient through the transitory surge associated with reopening will help ensure that the underlying economic momentum … is not curtailed by a premature tightening of financial conditions,” Brainard said.

Asked during a question and answer session what it would take for the Fed to become concerned about a potential overheating of the economy, Brainard said she believes significant changes in the expectations of businesses and consumers about inflation would take time to become embedded in the economy.

“Over three decades or more, we just don’t see rapid changes in inflation dynamics,” she said. The central bank needs to be cautious that it doesn’t choke off the recovery and end up with inflation once gain stuck below the Fed’s 2% target, she said.