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Powell makes it more likely that the Fed will lower rates

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  • Jerome Powell's testimony highlights progress in reducing inflation and a softening labor market, suggesting potential interest rate cuts.
  • The Federal Reserve remains focused on achieving its 2 percent inflation target and ensuring maximum employment.
  • The timing of rate cuts will depend on forthcoming economic data, including inflation and employment reports.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's recent testimony before the Senate Banking Committee has brought renewed attention to the possibility of interest rate cuts. In his semiannual monetary policy report, Powell highlighted the progress made in reducing inflation and the signs of a cooling labor market, indicating that the Federal Reserve might be approaching a phase where rate cuts could be considered.

"The economy has made considerable progress toward the Federal Reserve's 2 percent inflation goal, and labor market conditions have cooled while remaining strong," Powell stated during his testimony. This statement underscores the dual mandate of the Federal Reserve to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

Economic Progress and Inflation

Over the past two years, the U.S. economy has seen significant strides in curbing inflation, which had reached a four-decade peak. Powell noted that inflation has eased notably but remains above the Fed's long-term goal of 2 percent. The Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, a key inflation measure, showed a 2.6 percent increase over the 12 months ending in May, indicating a downward trend but still above the target.

Powell emphasized the importance of ensuring that inflation continues to move towards the 2 percent goal sustainably. "Recent monthly readings have shown modest further progress," he remarked, highlighting the need for more data to confirm these trends before making any policy adjustments.

Labor Market Dynamics

The labor market, another critical factor in the Fed's decision-making process, has shown signs of softening. The unemployment rate has risen to its highest level in over two years, and new jobless claims have increased, indicating a weakening job market. Powell acknowledged these developments, stating, "The strong labor market has helped narrow long-standing disparities in employment and earnings across demographic groups".

Despite the cooling labor market, Powell noted that conditions remain robust, with payroll job gains averaging 222,000 jobs per month in the first half of the year. This strong job creation has been accompanied by an increase in labor force participation, reflecting a resilient labor market.

Monetary Policy Outlook

The Federal Reserve has maintained its key interest rate within a range of 5.25% to 5.5% since July last year, following a series of aggressive rate hikes to combat inflation. Powell's recent remarks suggest that the Fed is now considering the timing of potential rate cuts, depending on forthcoming economic data. "The decision on the timing of rate adjustments will depend on forthcoming reports on employment and inflation," Powell emphasized.

While the exact timing of the first rate cut remains uncertain, market indicators suggest a high probability of a rate reduction at the Fed's September meeting. Recent economic data, including the consumer price index and employment reports, will play a crucial role in shaping the Fed's decision.

Jerome Powell's testimony has provided a glimpse into the Federal Reserve's cautious yet optimistic approach to monetary policy. As the U.S. economy continues to show signs of progress in reducing inflation and a cooling labor market, the possibility of interest rate cuts is becoming more tangible. However, Powell's emphasis on the need for more data underscores the Fed's commitment to making informed and balanced policy decisions.

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