Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, listens during a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Fed’s Fischer Says Economy May Exceed Inflation, Job Goals

(Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said the central bank could exceed its goals for inflation and employment as it probes the limits of resource use in the economy.

Fischer said the economy could “to some extent exceed our employment and inflation targets,” in remarks that could be viewed as implying some tolerance for overshooting its goals to coax out more investment and hiring.

His comments at an International Monetary Fund conference in Washington on Friday follow a widely noticed observation by Fed Chair Janet Yellen last month that there were “plausible ways” a “high pressure economy” could promote healthier growth through better labor allocation and by promoting research and start-up activity.

“The trade-off of how much inflation there would be for modestly exceeding their employment objective looks very favorable,” said Laurence Meyer, a former Fed governor and head of a policy analysis firm that bears his name in Washington. Fischer’s remarks show “tolerance within limits on inflation.”

U.S. central bankers forecast some overshooting of their lowest sustainable unemployment rate estimate of 4.8 percent earlier this year. The median estimate in their September forecasts shows the unemployment rate declining to 4.6 percent in the final quarter of 2017 and 4.5 percent in 2018. However, inflation never exceeds their 2 percent target, according to the median outlook of their quarterly projections.

Productivity Disappointment

Fischer’s comments were in the context of a question about whether stronger demand would call forth more productivity. He said it will be answered by the behavior of output and inflation as the economy approaches or exceeds the Fed’s estimates of full resource use.

Disappointing U.S. productivity growth has been vexing policy makers since the recovery began in 2009. Productivity gains are a central determinant for an economy’s ability to grow. Total factor productivity, a broad measure of the efficiency with which an economy uses its inputs, averaged just 0.29 percent in the past 12 quarters, according to the San Francisco Fed.

In his remarks, Fischer hewed closely to the Fed’s statement earlier this week that signaled the central bank’s intention to raise interest rates this year if economic reports remained on track.

“Our assessment is that the most recent data have further strengthened the case for increasing the target range for the federal funds rate,” he said in brief prepared remarks at the IMF. He said he expected the economy to grow “at a moderate pace” supported by household spending and “renewed” business investment.

The Federal Open Market Committee is scheduled to met Dec. 13-14 in Washington. Trading in federal funds futures show a 76 percent chance of a Fed rate increase next month, the first hike in a year.

Earlier Friday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that employers added 161,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent from 5 percent in September.

Fischer said the labor market “is close to full employment,” and noted the recovery has delivered “powerful” employment gains.