Continued progress on vaccinations will support a return to more normal economic conditions: Jerome H. Powell

Since we last met, the economy has shown sustained improvement. Widespread vaccinations have joined unprecedented monetary and fiscal policy actions in providing strong support to the recovery.

Jun 23, 2021 09:06 IST India Infoline News Service

Jerome Powell
Chairman Clyburn, Ranking Member Scalise, and other members of the Select Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to update you on our ongoing measures to address the hardship wrought by the pandemic.

Since we last met, the economy has shown sustained improvement. Widespread vaccinations have joined unprecedented monetary and fiscal policy actions in providing strong support to the recovery. Indicators of economic activity and employment have continued to strengthen, and real GDP this year appears to be on track to post its fastest rate of increase in decades. Much of this rapid growth reflects the continued bounce back in activity from depressed levels.

The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic remain weak, but have shown improvement. Household spending is rising at a rapid pace, boosted by the ongoing reopening of the economy, fiscal support, and accommodative financial conditions. The housing sector is strong, and business investment is increasing at a solid pace. In some industries, near-term supply constraints are restraining activity.

As with overall economic activity, conditions in the labor market have continued to improve, although the pace has been uneven. The unemployment rate remained elevated in May at 5.8 percent, and this figure understates the shortfall in employment, particularly as participation in the labor market has not moved up from the low rates that have prevailed for most of the past year. Job gains should pick up in coming months as vaccinations rise, easing some of the pandemic-related factors currently weighing them down.

The economic downturn has not fallen equally on all Americans, and those least able to shoulder the burden have been the hardest hit. In particular, despite progress, joblessness continues to fall disproportionately on lower-wage workers in the service sector and on African Americans and Hispanics.

The Fed pursues monetary policy aimed at fostering a strong, stable economy that can improve economic outcomes for all Americans. Those who have historically been left behind stand the best chance of prospering in a strong economy with plentiful job opportunities. And our economy will be stronger and perform better when everyone can contribute to, and share in, the benefits of prosperity.

Inflation has increased notably in recent months. This reflects, in part, the very low readings from early in the pandemic falling out of the calculation; the pass-through of past increases in oil prices to consumer energy prices; the rebound in spending as the economy continues to reopen; and the exacerbating factor of supply bottlenecks, which have limited how quickly production in some sectors can respond in the near term. As these transitory supply effects abate, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal.

The pandemic continues to pose risks to the economic outlook. Progress on vaccinations has limited the spread of COVID-19 and will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy. However, the pace of vaccinations has slowed and new strains of the virus remain a risk. Continued progress on vaccinations will support a return to more normal economic conditions.

The Fed's policy actions are guided by our dual mandate to promote maximum employment and stable prices for the American people, along with our responsibilities to promote the stability of the financial system.

In response to the crisis, we took broad and forceful measures to more directly support the flow of credit in the economy and to promote the stability of the financial system at the onset of the pandemic. Our actions, taken together, helped unlock more than $2 trillion of funding to support businesses large and small, nonprofits, and state and local governments between April and December of 2020. This, in turn, helped keep organizations from shuttering and put employers in a better position to keep workers on and to hire them back as the recovery continues.

Our facilities were designed as backstops to private credit markets, not as replacements. Once lenders and investors understood that borrowers would have access to emergency loans, conditions improved. For example, yields and spreads on municipal bonds started to fall dramatically following the announcement that some municipal notes would be eligible at our money fund facility and that we were opening the Municipal Liquidity Facility. This is detailed in the charts accompanying my testimony. Over the succeeding months, issuance of municipal debt surged. Over the period from April to December 2020, state and local governments and other muni issuers borrowed almost $380 billion in the private markets at extremely attractive rates, and 2020 as a whole saw the highest volume of municipal issuance on record.

We have deployed these lending tools to an unprecedented extent. Our emergency lending tools require the approval of the Treasury and are available only in unusual and exigent circumstances, such as those brought on by the crisis, Jerome H. Powell said..

Many of these programs were supported by funding from the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act). Those facilities provided essential support through a very difficult year and are now closed. We continue to analyze the facilities' efficacy and to review the lessons learned from their establishment and operation, and additional analysis is included in my written testimony.

To conclude, we understand that our actions affect communities, families, and businesses across the country. Everything we do is in service to our public mission. We at the Fed will do everything we can to support the economy for as long as it takes to complete the recovery. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

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