Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, reiterated the central bank’s commitment to moving forward “carefully” with further rate moves in a speech on Thursday. But he also said that the central bank might need to raise interest rates more if economic data continued to come in hot.
Mr. Powell tried to paint a balanced picture of the challenge facing the Fed in remarks before the Economic Club of New York. He emphasized that the Fed is trying to weigh two goals against one another: It wants to wrestle inflation fully under control, but it also wants to avoid doing too much and unnecessarily hurting the economy.
Yet this is a complicated moment for the central bank as the economy behaves in surprising ways. Officials have rapidly raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent over the past 19 months. Policymakers are now debating whether they need to raise rates one more time in 2023.
The higher borrowing costs are supposed to weigh down economic activity — slowing home buying, business expansions and demand of all sorts — in order to cool inflation. But so far, growth has been unexpectedly resilient. Consumers are spending. Companies are hiring. And while wage gains are moderating, overall growth has been robust enough to make some economists question whether the economy is slowing sufficiently to drive inflation back to the Fed’s 2 percent goal.
“We are attentive to recent data showing the resilience of economic growth and demand for labor,” Mr. Powell acknowledged on Thursday. “Additional evidence of persistently above-trend growth, or that tightness in the labor market is no longer easing, could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”
Mr. Powell called recent growth data a “surprise,” and said that “it really is a story of much stronger demand” than had been expected.
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