Current rates should be enough to bring inflation down: Fed's Barkin

Richmond Fed president Tom Barkin said Monday he is optimistic that the current interest rates will be enough to eventually bring inflation down, and that the Fed can afford to be patient due to a strong job market.

“The recent data whiplash has only confirmed the value of the Fed being deliberate,” Barkin said in a speech at Columbia Rotary Club in South Carolina.

“The economy is moving toward better balance, but no one wants inflation to reemerge.”

Richmond Federal Reserve Bank president Thomas Barkin speaks to the Economic Club of New York in New York City, U.S., February 8, 2024.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermidRichmond Federal Reserve Bank president Thomas Barkin speaks to the Economic Club of New York in New York City, U.S., February 8, 2024.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Richmond Federal Reserve Bank president Thomas Barkin in February. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (REUTERS / Reuters)

Barkin’s comments come after inflation showed a lack of progress in the first three months of the year after a steady decline in the second half of last year.

The Fed’s interest-rate setting committee decided last week to keep its benchmark rate in a range of 5.25%-5.50%, a 23-year high, at the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting. The fed funds rate has been in this range since July 2023.

The committee said in its latest policy statement that “in recent months, there has been a lack of further progress toward the Committee’s 2 percent inflation objective.”

Officials reiterated more clarity in the outlook for inflation returning to target will be needed before cutting rates.

“The Committee does not expect it will be appropriate to reduce the target range until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2 percent,” the statement read.

But Fed Chair Jay Powell soothed markets by making it clear in a press conference Wednesday that “it is unlikely the next policy move will be a hike.”

Barkin, a voting member of the Fed’s interest-rate setting committee, seemingly echoed the view that the Fed is not looking at hiking rates right now but does need greater confidence inflation is moving back toward the goal of 2%.

“With this data whiplash over the last few months, it is natural to wonder whether we are experiencing a real shift in the economic outlook, or merely one of the bumps we said we expected along the way. Should we take more signal from the past three months, or the prior seven?”

Barkin says while he does not see the economy overheating, the Fed knows how to respond if it does. And if the economy slows more significantly, the Fed will take the necessary measures there as well.

If the economy does cool, Barkin said he believes a recession won’t be as bad as the financial crisis of 2008. Job losses would likely be fewer and businesses have already prepared for a pullback, having slowed hiring, cut costs, managed inventories, and deferred investment.

Despite a cooler-than-expected jobs report for the month of April, Barkin characterized the job market as strong, noting that he thinks high rates will eventually slow the economy.

Barkin believes the economy has yet to feel the full impact from higher rates because most consumers and businesses locked in lower rates near pandemic-era lows.

“I am optimistic that today’s restrictive level of rates can take the edge off demand in order to bring inflation back to our target,” Barkin said.

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