Janet Yellen Just Told Congress Why the Fed Has to Raise Interest Rates Soon
The Federal Reserve will likely need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Tuesday, although she flagged considerable uncertainty over economic policy under the Trump administration.
Yellen said delaying rate increases could leave the Fed’s policymaking committee behind the curve and eventually lead it to hike rates quickly, which she said could cause a recession.
Here are some other highlights of Yellen’s semiannual testimony on the U.S. economy and monetary policy as prepared for delivery on Tuesday to the Senate Banking Committee.
ON ECONOMIC OUTLOOK My colleagues on the FOMC and I expect the economy to continue to expand at a moderate pace, with the job market strengthening somewhat further and inflation gradually rising to 2%.
ON UPCOMING POLICY MEETINGS At our upcoming meetings, the Committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with these expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate.
ON UNCERTAINTY As always, considerable uncertainty attends the economic outlook. Among the sources of uncertainty are possible changes in U.S. fiscal and other policies, the future path of productivity growth, and developments abroad.
ON THE DANGER OF WAITING TO LONG TO TIGHTEN As I noted on previous occasions, waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.
ON FISCAL POLICY AND THE FED The economic outlook is uncertain, and monetary policy is not on a preset course. FOMC participants will adjust their assessments of the appropriate path for the federal funds rate in response to changes to the economic outlook and associated risks as informed by incoming data. Also, changes in fiscal policy or other economic policies could potentially affect the economic outlook. Of course, it is too early to know what policy changes will be put in place or how their economic effects will unfold.
FISCAL POLICY AND LONG-TERM GROWTH While it is not my intention to opine on specific tax or spending proposals, I would point to the importance of improving the pace of longer-run economic growth and raising American living standards with policies aimed at improving productivity. I would also hope that fiscal policy changes will be consistent with putting U.S. fiscal accounts on a sustainable trajectory.
ON JOBS The unemployment rate, which stood at 4.8 percent in January, is more than 5 percentage points lower than where it stood at its peak in 2010 and is now in line with the median of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants’ estimates of its longer-run normal level. A broader measure of labor underutilization, which includes those marginally attached to the labor force and people who are working part time but would like a full-time job, has also continued to improve over the past year. In addition, the pace of wage growth has picked up relative to its pace of a few years ago, a further indication that the job market is tightening.
ON INVESTMENT Business investment was relatively soft for much of last year, though it posted some larger gains toward the end of the year in part reflecting an apparent end to the sharp declines in spending on drilling and mining structures; moreover, business sentiment has noticeably improved in the past few months.
ON INFLATION It is reassuring that while market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low, they have risen from the very low levels they reached during the latter part of 2015 and first half of 2016. Meanwhile, most survey measures of longer-term inflation expectations have changed little, on balance, in recent months.