Talking the tightrope between economy and inflation


It’s Fed week again. And, again, the Fed will aim to convince investors that it will remain patient in the face of accelerating economic growth and growing inflation concerns.

Months ago, the central bank all but promised to keep its target short-term interest rate at zero through 2023. It needed to continue to reassure the markets and consumers that borrowing costs would remain low even as the economy reopened and rebounded from its pandemic-induced halt. It has worked. Stock markets have hit new highs, home sales are jumping, and hiring is hot.

Just two weeks ago to “60 Minutes,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell described the bank’s forecast for the American economy later this year as “very strong.” The agency’s own forecast is for GDP to jump 6.5 percent. That would mark the fastest growing economy since 1984, and better than three times the growth rate experienced in the years following the Great Recession. But the bank isn’t going to surprise people by raising its borrowing costs to cool the economy. “The Fed will do everything we can to support the economy for as long as it takes to complete the recovery,” Powell told CBS News.

Increasingly, the bank’s policymakers are having to talk investors over a tightrope between low-interest rates supporting economic growth and easy money igniting inflation. Bond market interest rates started climbing in February as inflation worries gained a footing.

The central bank has been talking down inflation fears, and there is little consumer evidence of a sustained and sharp jump in general prices. Yes, some consumer brands are raising prices. Hormel, J.M. Smucker, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter and Gamble have announced price hikes on turkey, peanut butter, toilet paper and diapers. And while such price hikes impact consumer wallets, higher prices for what people put in their kitchen and bathroom cabinets does not necessarily mean higher overall inflation.

As the economy jumps ahead and investment markets swing back and forth, the Fed will tip-toe along.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell during a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on oversight of the Treasury Department and Fed Reserve pandemic response on June 30, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Bill O’Leary/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS


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