Powell says the Fed is still a ways off from altering policy, expects inflation to moderate

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the economy needs to improve more before the central bank will change its ultra-easy monetary policy.

In remarks prepared for the House financial services committee, the central bank chief noted improvements but said the labor market in particular is still well below where it was before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Powell noted that the Fed’s benchmark of “substantial further progress” toward full employment and stable prices remains “a ways off.”

Markets have been watching Fed communication for indications about when the central bank will begin tapering its minimum $120 billion a month in bond purchases as it keeps interest rates anchored near zero.

Powell noted that the two policy measures “along with our strong guidance on interest rates and on our balance sheet, will ensure that monetary policy will continue to deliver powerful support to the economy until the recovery is complete.”

The chair’s comments came as part of his mandated semiannual testimony to Congress on the state of monetary policy and the economy.

As he has in the past, Powell noted that the pandemic-related hit to the economy is falling on those least able to shoulder it.

“Conditions in the labor market have continued to improve, but there is still a long way to go,” he said. “Job gains should be strong in coming months as public health conditions continue to improve and as some of the other pandemic-related factors currently weighing them down diminish.”

While the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.9% from its pandemic high of 14.8%, the Fed is focused on an inclusive employment mandate across racial, gender and income groups.

“Despite substantial improvements for all racial and ethnic groups, the hardest-hit groups still have the most ground left to regain,” Powell said.

On inflation, Powell said it has “has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating.”

But he stuck to his oft-stated belief that the current surge is temporary and will be offset as conditions return to normal.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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