The Outlook, Uncertainty, and Monetary Policy; Janet Yellen's Speech to the Economic Club of New York
At the Economic Club of New York, New York City; March 29, 2016
For more than a century, the Economic Club of New York has served as one of the nation's leading nonpartisan forums for discussion of economic policy issues. It is an honor to appear before you today to speak about the Federal Reserve's pursuit of maximum employment and price stability.
Photo from Ms. Yellen's Federal Reserve (SF) days, 2005
In December, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) raised the target range for the federal funds rate, the Federal Reserve's main policy rate, by 1/4 percentage point. This small step marked the end of an extraordinary seven-year period during which the federal funds rate was held near zero to support the recovery from the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression. The Committee's action recognized the considerable progress that the US economy had made in restoring the jobs and incomes of millions of Americans hurt by this downturn. It also reflected an expectation that the economy would continue to strengthen and that inflation, while low, would move up to the FOMC's 2 percent objective as the transitory influences of lower oil prices and a stronger dollar gradually dissipate and as the labor market improves further. In light of this expectation, the Committee stated in December, and reiterated at the two subsequent meetings, that it "expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate."1
In my remarks today, I will explain why the Committee anticipates that only gradual increases in the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted in coming years, emphasizing that this guidance should be understood as a forecast for the trajectory of policy rates that the Committee anticipates will prove to be appropriate to achieve its objectives, conditional on the outlook for real economic activity and inflation. Importantly, this forecast is not a plan set in stone that will be carried out regardless of economic developments. Instead, monetary policy will, as always, respond to the economy's twists and turns so as to promote, as best as we can in an uncertain economic environment, the employment and inflation goals assigned to us by the Congress.
The proviso that policy will evolve as needed is especially pertinent today in light of global economic and financial developments since December, which at times have included significant changes in oil prices, interest rates, and stock values. So far, these developments have not materially altered the Committee's baseline — or most likely — outlook for economic activity and inflation over the medium term. Specifically, we continue to expect further labor market improvement and a return of inflation to our 2 percent objective over the next two or three years, consistent with data over recent months. But this is not to say that global developments since the turn of the year have been inconsequential. In part, the baseline outlook for real activity and inflation is little changed because investors responded to those developments by marking down their expectations for the future path of the federal funds rate, thereby putting downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and cushioning the adverse effects on economic activity. In addition, global developments have increased the risks associated with that outlook. In light of these considerations, the Committee decided to leave the stance of policy unchanged in both January and March.
I will next describe the Committee's baseline economic outlook and the risks that cloud that outlook, emphasizing the FOMC's commitment to adjust monetary policy as needed to achieve our employment and inflation objectives.
Recent Developments and the Baseline Outlook
Readings on the US economy since the turn of the year have been somewhat mixed. On the one hand, many indicators have been quite favorable. The labor market has added an average of almost 230,000 jobs a month over the past three months. In addition, the unemployment rate has edged down further, more people are joining the workforce as the prospects for finding jobs have improved, and the employment-to-population ratio has increased by almost 1/2 percentage point. Consumer spending appears to be expanding at a moderate pace, driven by solid income gains, improved household balance sheets, and the ongoing effects of the increases in wealth and declines in oil prices over the past few years. The housing market continues its gradual recovery, and fiscal policy at all levels of government is now modestly boosting economic activity after exerting a considerable drag in recent years.
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