July 20th, 2024

Top Federal Reserve official says inflation fight seems nearly won, with rate cuts coming

By Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

FILE- The seal of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System is shown at the Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington on Feb. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) – A top Federal Reserve official said Tuesday that he is increasingly confident that inflation will continue falling this year back to the Fed’s 2% target level, after two years of accelerating price spikes that hurt millions of American households.

The official, Christopher Waller, an influential member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, noted that inflation is slowing even as growth and hiring remain solid – a combination that he called “almost as good as it gets.”

Waller’s remarks follow recent comments from other senior Fed officials that suggest that the central bank remains on track to begin cutting its benchmark short-term interest rate this year. In December, the policymakers collectively forecast that they would cut their rate three times this year. Wall Street investors and many economists expect the first cut in March.

“The progress I have noted on inflation, combined with the data in hand on economic and financial conditions and my outlook has made me more confident than I have been since 2021 that inflation is on a path to 2%,” Waller said in written remarks to the Brookings Institution.

Consumer inflation, according to the Fed’s preferred measure, soared to about 7% in mid-2022, compared with a year earlier. In response, beginning in March 2022 the Fed hiked its key rate 11 times, to its highest level in 22 years. Year-over-year inflation fell to 2.6% in November, the Fed’s measure showed.

Waller suggested that the economy is continuing to expand modestly, with the unemployment rate at just 3.7%, not far above a half-century low, while inflation cools.

“But will it last?” he asked. “In the end, I am feeling more confident that the economy can continue along its current trajectory.”

Waller avoided providing any hints of the likely timetable for Fed rate cuts. He said the timing and pace of the cuts would depend on the path of inflation and other economic data.

Waller did note an important shift in the Fed’s focus, from a singular emphasis on fighting inflation to a more balanced stance. The central bank, he said, now must consider both holding inflation in check and keeping unemployment low. Such a shift suggests that the Fed could cut rates quickly if the economy and hiring showed signs of faltering in the coming months.

“Today, I view the risks to our employment and inflation mandates as being closely balanced,” he said.

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