The Federal Reserve could begin normalizing interest rates this year, but won’t rush to do so amid tepid wage growth and tame inflation, central bank Chairwoman Janet Yellen said on Tuesday.
Testifying before Congress, Yellen sought to lay the groundwork for how the Federal Reserve would begin raising interest rates after more than six years. She continued to stress patience in normalizing monetary policy, echoing the Federal Open Market Committee’s January rate statement.
The Federal Reserve “will at some point begin considering an increase in the target range for the federal funds rate on a meeting-by-meeting basis,” Yellen told Congress on Tuesday. However, Yelllen was careful to manage expectations, stressing that the Fed’s eventual change in language would not necessarily translate into a shift in policy.
“It is important to emphasize that a modification of the forward guidance should not be read as indicating that the [Federal Reserve] will necessarily increase the target rate in a couple of meetings,” she added. “The modification should be understood as reflecting the [Federal Reserve’s] judgment that conditions have improved to the point where it will soon be the case that a change in the target range could be warranted at any meeting,”
The data-driven Fed has relied on the economic indicators to adjust monetary policy, having closed the books on a record bond-buying program only last October. Yellen said on Tuesday that unemployment was still too high, despite acknowledging broad improvements “on many dimensions.” Unemployment edged up slightly to 5.7 percent in January as workforce participation increased. Employers added 257,000 jobs in January and have added an average of 336,000 jobs per month over the last three months.
While several Fed officials have indicated they would like to have the option to raise interest rates in June, the minutes of the January FOMC meetings revealed growing concerns about tame inflation and a volatile global economy. For its part, the Fed has remained consistent in its messaging since December, when it first started using the word patience to describe interest rate adjustments.
The FOMC’s next meetings will be held in Washington on March 17-18. They will be accompanied by revised GDP, inflation and employment forecasts, as well as the closely followed “dot-plot” chart of interest rate expectations. The Fed’s December forecast showed policymakers anticipated interest rates to rise to 1.125 percent by the end of the year.
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