Powell Expects Bump in Inflation, Says It Won’t Get Out of Hand
(Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said prices would rise this year as the pandemic recedes and Americans are able to go out and spend, but he played down the risk that this would spur unwanted inflation.
“We do expect that inflation will move up over the course of this year,” Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, citing pent-up demand, supply-chain bottlenecks and the comparison with very weak price pressures last year. “Our best view is that the effect on inflation will be neither particularly large nor persistent.”
Powell appeared before the committee along with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as part of Congressional oversight of the government’s response to the pandemic. Both policy makers are slated to testify again on Wednesday, to the Senate Banking Committee.
The economy is widely expected to surge in the coming months, thanks to more widespread vaccinations against Covid-19 and President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
The program, which passed without a single Republican vote in Congress, included additional help for unemployed workers and $1,400 checks for many Americans and came on top of more than $3 trillion in fiscal support approved on a bipartisan basis last year.
In forecasts released last week, Fed policy makers projected that the economy will grow 6.5% in 2021. That would be the fastest pace since 1983 when measured fourth quarter over the same three months a year earlier and would follow a 2.4% contraction in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
Inflation, as calculated by the personal consumption expenditures price index, is seen in the Fed’s median forecast as ending 2021 at 2.4%. It clocked in at 1.5% in January.
The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield slid for a second day after Powell played down the risks that economic growth would spur unwanted inflation. He said the experience of a prolonged period of low inflation around the world was one of the things contributing to the inertia that will keep price pressures in check.
“We have been living in a world of strong disinflationary pressures -- around the world really -- for a quarter of a century,” he said. “We don’t think a one-time surge in spending leading to temporary price increases would disrupt that.”
Under his forthcoming economic program, Biden plans higher taxes for those earning more than $400,000 a year, highlighting the administration’s plans to address inequality in part through levies on the wealthy.
State governments accepting pandemic-relief money from Washington are allowed to cut taxes, but only if they don’t use the federal aid to offset those reductions, the Biden administration has said in a response to concerns raised by Republicans.
Yellen said Treasury is “working to provide guidelines” to say what sort of state-level tax decreases won’t violate a provision in the stimulus law that says that states can’t use federal grant money to pay for tax cuts.
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