FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Thomas Barkin poses during a break at a Dallas Fed conference on technology in Dallas, Texas, U.S., May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir
March 22, 2021
By Ann Saphir
(Reuters) -Richmond Federal Reserve President Thomas Barkin on Monday said he doesn’t believe the U.S. economy is anywhere near the bar the central bank set before it will begin to even consider pulling back on its bond-buying program.
“I don’t think right now we are at substantial forward progress,” Barkin said, a reference to the Fed’s promise in December to keep buying bonds at its current monthly pace until it sees “substantial further progress” on reaching its full employment and 2% inflation goals.
“I want to get a good part of the way there before having the conversation about whether we’ve made substantial forward progress,” Barkin said at the National Association for Business Economics annual meeting.
Barkin’s comments echo those of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who said last week that it’s not time to even start talking about pulling back on bond purchases despite Fed policymaker forecasts for the fastest U.S. growth in decades this year.
Barkin noted that the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, core PCE, was 1.4% in December when the central bank set its bar for reducing quantitative easing, well short of the Fed’s 2% goal.
And while unemployment has dropped to 6.2%, broader measures of the job market suggest plenty of slack.
Barkin said he closely follows the percentage of the overall population that is working, known as the employment-to-population ratio, which rose from 57.4% in December to 57.6% in February. That’s still far below its pre-crisis level of 61.1%, he noted.
Barkin did say he expects the economy to grow very strongly this year as households spend the government aid included in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package passed this month, and as vaccinations enable more people to return to travel and other activity long-deferred by the pandemic.
Barkin said he is not troubled by the recent sharp rise in bond yields that some see as a warning sign of a coming surge in inflation that could undermine the recovery.
“Inflation expectations have been firming,” Barkin said. “That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, so long as they don’t get out of whack.”
In coming months, he said, he expects some pretty large price spikes compared to a year earlier, but he’ll “look through” such jumps because they will reflect a comparison to very low inflation last summer and what he expects to be a one-time surge as consumers start spending their money all at once.
(Reporting by Ann SaphirEditing by Paul Simao)