“All we need is just a little patience,” Axl Rose sang in the popular Guns & Roses song. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is singing the same tune about the recent surge in inflation.
Powell on Wednesday acknowledged inflation has risen much faster this year than he and other senior Fed officials predicted.
The pace of inflation, using the Fed’s preferred PCE price gauge, climbed to a 13-year high of 3.9% in the 12 months ended in May. It’s almost double the Fed’s 2% target.
He also admitted it’s possible inflation “could turn out to be higher and more persistent than we expected.”
But he really doesn’t think so.
Powell believes rising prices are almost entirely the result of the reopening of the U.S. economy. An explosion in pentup demand caught businesses by surprise and they are unable to satisfy all the demand. Many firms can’t find enough workers or they are running short of key supplies that would allow them to produce more goods and services.
“Supply bottlenecks have been larger than anticipated,” Powell said in a press conference after the Fed’s latest strategy-planning session.
Once these bottlenecks abate and the economy returns to normal, Powell said, prices are likely to recede. Most of the recent price increases by businesses are likely to be one-offs, he said.
He repeated his view that inflation is likely to slip in the next year or so and return closer to the bank’s 2% goal.
Just precisely when is this going to happen? Powell couldn’t say. “We don’t have much confidence in the timing,” he said.
He suggested inflation would remain high in the “short term,” but subside in the “medium term.” Those terms leave a lot of leeway for interpretation, though.
What if inflation remains higher than the Fed would like? Powell insisted the Fed would be prepared to act.
In the meantime, the Fed is sticking with its massive bond-buying program meant to prop up the economy. The central bank is buying $120 billion in mortgages and Treasurys each month as part of a broader strategy to keep interest rates low.
Powell said the Fed is getting closer to the time when it starts withdrawing support for the U.S. economy, but he also made it clear a decision is still months away.
In a word, patience. “It’s a shock to the economy that will just pass through,” he said.