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Jay Powell warns US recession is ‘definitely a possibility’

Jay Powell said a US recession is “definitely a possibility” and warned that avoiding a downturn now largely depends on factors beyond Federal Reserve control.

In testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, the Fed leader acknowledged that it was now more challenging for the central bank to eradicate soaring inflation and at the same time maintain a strong labor market.

He argued that the United States was sufficiently resilient to withstand tougher monetary policy without slipping into a downturn, but acknowledged that external factors, such as the Ukraine war and China̵[ads1]7;s Covid-19 policy, could further complicate the outlook.

“It’s not our intended outcome at all, but it is certainly a possibility,” Powell said, answering a question about the risk the Fed’s plans to raise interest rates this year could lead to a recession.

He added that due to “events in recent months around the world”, it was “now more difficult” for the central bank to achieve its target of 2 per cent inflation and a strong labor market.

“The question of whether we are capable of achieving that will to some extent depend on factors that we do not control,” he said, referring to sky-high commodity prices stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and clogged supply chains. due to China’s shutdowns.

Powell was repeatedly pressured by lawmakers for the burden imposed by the Fed’s latest crackdown on inflation, now at 8.6 percent, the highest in four decades. Last week, the central bank implemented the largest interest rate increase since 1994, signaling its support for what is set to be the most powerful campaign to tighten monetary policy since the 1980s.

“Do you know what’s worse than high inflation and low unemployment? There is high inflation and a recession with millions of people without jobs, says Elizabeth Warren, the progressive Democrat senator from Massachusetts. “I hope you will reconsider it before driving this economy off a cliff.”

Powell said in a separate exchange that there would be significant risk if the Fed did not act to restore price stability, with inflation taking hold.

“We know from history that it will hurt the people we want to help, the people in the lower income brackets who are now suffering from high inflation,” he said. “It will hurt them more than anyone else. We can not fail in that task.”

Concerns about a possible recession have grown, with worse-than-expected inflation data this month. While Powell maintained that the US economy is “very strong and well positioned to handle tighter monetary policy”, he acknowledged that further inflationary surprises “may be in store”.

“We must therefore be good at responding to incoming data and the evolving outlook, and we will try to avoid adding uncertainty to what is already an extraordinarily challenging and uncertain time,” he said.

Traders have priced in the reference rate for federal funds and reached about 3.6 percent at the end of the year, an increase that has caused a broader increase in borrowing costs globally. Powell said on Wednesday that the tightening of economic conditions has already had its intended effect and is dampening demand.

Powell’s testimony comes at a critical time for the White House, which is struggling with growing expectations of a sharp decline in growth ahead of the midterm elections in November. Many economists have since experienced a recession by next year.

“There is nothing inevitable about a recession,” US President Joe Biden told reporters this week – a message also sent by Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, and Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council.

Fed officials have begun preparing market participants for at least one further 0.75 percentage point rate hike at their next meeting in July. Powell said Wednesday that the Fed needs to see “convincing evidence” that inflation is moderating before giving in to raising interest rates.

Powell said future decisions on the Fed’s actions would be decided “face to face”.

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