Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will use his two days of congressional testimony this week to stress that he is in no rush to exit the central bank’s easy policy stance.
“Patience will remain the watchword,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
The strong consumer price inflation report will lead to some more pointed questions, especially from Republicans eager to blame Democrats for the rise.
Headline CPI beat expectations in June, rising 0.9% after a 0.6% jump in May.
But Powell is not going to rewrite his testimony due to that one report, economists said.
“If the last two inflation prints did not shift his views in a meaningful way, it is hard to see why this one will,” said Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research.
“Powell’s main job at this point will be to push back against the regional Fed presidents, who will only get louder in their calls to remove policy accommodation,” Dutta wrote in a note to clients.
The Fed is holding rates close to zero and buying $120 billion of Treasurys and mortgage-related bonds each month to keep interest rates low.
Minutes of the Fed’s June meeting show that officials had a lengthy discussion about when to slow down, or taper, the asset purchases. That is the likely first step in backing away from its easy policy stance.
In general, economists think the Fed will announce its plans on tapering as soon as September and could start to taper by year’s end. But economists don’t agree on the timing.
“Powell doesn’t want to make news, because if he’s making news then it’s because he said something different, something surprising,” said Vine Reinhart, Mellon’s chief economist, in an interview on Bloomberg Radio.
“He wants to say ‘everything is on course.’ They are worried about the pandemic, they’re pleased with unfolding economic data, but there is a long way to go,” Reinhart said.
In a possible preview of Powell’s message, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly said Tuesday she was unfazed by the strong June CPI report and that higher inflation was temporary. She said tapering could come at the end of the year.
As always, lawmakers will be seeking to use Powell to score political points.
Stephen Myrow, managing director of Beacon Policy Advisors, said moderate Democrats are worried that Congress is doing too little on infrastructure and will “throw softballs” to Powell about maintaining his dovish stance.
“I think Powell shares more in common with the Democrats than he does Republicans,” Myrow said.
Republicans will argue Democrat policies such as extra benefits for unemployed workers have actually slowed the overall recovery and increased the inflation risk, Myrow said in an interview.
Stocks closed lower on Tuesday ahead of Powell’s testimony, with the S&P 500
index off 0.4%.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note
moved up to 1.423%, still well down from the high of 1.75% reached at the end of March.