November 17, 2016
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen gave a relatively upbeat assessment of the economy Thursday, further signaling a likely interest rate hike next month.
But she also noted that there is a “great deal of uncertainty” following the election and that she expected it would last for “some considerable time.”
In her first public statements about the economy since Donald Trump’s victory last week, Yellen did not talk specifically about the president-elect. Nor did she say that uncertainty, or the risks associated with it, had changed the Fed’s outlook on the economy or its plan on raising interest rates, at least for now.
With the labor market continuing to make progress and signs of rising inflation and wage gains recently, Yellen said at a congressional hearing that an increase in short-term interest rates “could well become appropriate relatively soon.”
She said that delaying a rate hike for too long could be detrimental for monetary policy and the economy. The Fed last raised its benchmark rate in December, and it stands at between 0.25% and 0.5%.
“Well, my own judgment is, looking at incoming economic data and developments thus far … the evidence we have seen since we [Fed policymakers] met in November is consistent with our expectation of strengthening growth and improving labor market, inflation moving up,” she told members of the Joint Economic Committee. “So we indicated that the case had strengthened for an increase in the federal funds rate and, to my mind, the evidence we’ve seen since that time remains consistent with the judgment the committee reached in November.”
Analysts widely expect a quarter-point rate increase at the Fed’s last scheduled meeting of the year, on Dec. 13 and 14. Yellen reiterated Thursday that future rate increases were likely to be gradual, but Trump’s election has raised market expectations for faster rate hikes in the months to come.
Like the Fed, private economists are waiting for clarity on how many of Trump’s campaign promises will be carried out, particularly the protectionist trade and restrictive immigration policies that Trump has advocated. For now, many businesses and investors are looking for somewhat stronger economic growth in the near term, as well as higher inflation and interest rates, as Trump and the incoming Republican-controlled Congress have raised prospects for sizable tax cuts and investments on infrastructure.
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