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Jerome Powell focuses on 2% inflation as Fed promises ‘unconditional’ fight

June 17, 2022, 3:46 PM UTC

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reiterated his determination to curb the hottest inflation in 40 years and said the U.S. central bank’s commitment encourages the world to hold and transact in dollars.

“My colleagues and I are acutely focused on returning inflation to our 2% objective,” he said in welcoming remarks Friday to a Fed conference on the international role of the dollar in Washington. “The Federal Reserve’s strong commitment to our price-stability mandate contributes to the widespread confidence in the dollar as a store of value.”

His comments were the first in public since the Fed on Wednesday raised interest rates by 75 basis points in the largest increase since 1994 and signaled more aggressive moves to come as they fight the hottest inflation in four decades.

The central bank later reinforced that message via its semi-annual monetary report to Congress, stating the policy-setting “committee’s commitment to restoring price stability—which is necessary for sustaining a strong labor market—is unconditional.”

Powell suffered a solitary dissent in Wednesday’s policy vote, though it came from an unexpected source: Kansas City Fed chief Esther George, who cast the first dovish dissent of her career.

In a statement explaining her decision later on Friday, she said that she voted against the 75 basis point increase “ because I viewed that move as adding to policy uncertainty simultaneous with the start of balance sheet runoff.”

The Fed commenced shrinking its massive balance sheet on June 1 at a $47.5 billion monthly pace that will double in September.

“For some time, I have advocated for stopping asset purchases and beginning the runoff of the $9 trillion balance sheet and returning interest rates to more normal levels,” George said. “However, the speed with which we adjust the policy rate is important. Policy changes affect the economy with a lag, and significant and abrupt changes can be unsettling.”

Powell told reporters at a post-meeting press conference that another 75 basis-point hike, or a 50 basis-point move, was likely at the next meeting of policy makers in July. Officials forecast rates will rise this year, to 3.4% by December and 3.8% by the end of 2023. That was a big upgrade from the 1.9% and 2.8% that they penciled in for their March projections.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said that while he supported Wednesday’s move and could back one of the same size next month, uncertainty about how much tightening raises caution about too much more front-loading. 

“A prudent strategy might be, after the July meeting, to simply continue with 50 basis-point hikes until inflation is well on its way down to 2%,” he said in an essay Friday. “Obviously, in such a scenario, the FOMC would still need to remain data-dependent and have the flexibility to account for economic developments that might arise.”

The Fed chief, in his remarks on Friday, said the central bank’s ability to meet its goals for both maximum employment and stable prices depends on maintaining financial stability.

“The Fed’s commitment to both our dual mandate and financial stability encourages the international community to hold and use dollars,” he said.

He also highlighted the role played by the Fed’s liquidity swap lines and its standing repo facility for making it easier for foreign central banks to gain access to dollars in times of stress.

“Both facilities enhance the standing of the dollar as the dominant global currency,” he said.

—With assistance from Matthew Boesler.

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