Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday that U.S. job growth since early last year was not as robust as thought, a hint that the Fed may be ready to keep cutting interest rates to support the economy.
Downward revisions to the government’s hiring data, announced in August, suggest less upward pressure on wages and inflation.
“Where we had seen a booming job market, we now see more-moderate growth,” Powell said in a speech at an economic conference in Denver.
The Fed raised its benchmark short-term rate four times last year, ending at a range of 2.25% to 2.5%. The reasoning behind these rate hikes was based in part on the notion that brisk hiring would enable workers to secure higher pay, which would ultimately lead to higher inflation. Yet so far, the pace of income gains and price increases has remained slight.
Since the start of this year, the Fed has reversed two of those hikes, and investors expect a third rate cut late this month, according to market gauges.
In his speech, Powell also said the Fed plans to renew its Treasury security purchases to pump more cash into overnight money markets. That step is intended to help keep short-term rates at their target level and isn’t needed to support the economy, the Fed chairman added.
Last month, a shortage of funds in the overnight lending markets used mostly by banks lifted the Fed’s rate above the top of its target range. Corporate tax payments due at the end of the quarter and bond sales by the federal government had soaked up enough cash to send the overnight rates sharply higher.
As part of this program, Powell said the Fed is considering buying Treasury bills. Typically, the Fed creates new currency to make such purchases, which boosts cash reserves available in short-term lending markets.
In his remarks Tuesday, Powell did not directly address the Fed’s next steps on interest rates. But he said the central bank “will act as appropriate” to support the economy and hiring.
“At present, the jobs and inflation pictures are favorable,” he said. “But there are risks to this favorable outlook,” he added, referring specifically to the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit. Major overseas economies, such as Germany, are also stumbling.
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