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Fed Chairman Powell says he is 'very worried' about growing amount of U.S. debt

Thomas Franck

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is "very worried" about the ballooning amount of United States debt.

The Fed raised its benchmark overnight lending rate four times in 2018 as a part of its goals of maximizing employment and keeping prices in check. Powell and his colleagues have cited months of strong labor statistics and healthy GDP numbers while hiking rates.

However, tepid inflation and concerns surrounding the longevity of the current economic expansion have prompted backlash from some market participants. Fears that policymakers may be elevating borrowing costs at too quick a pace contributed to a broad stock sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2018, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 posting their worst Decembers since the Great Depression.

Recent commentary from central bank members suggests that Fed members may be heeding those concerns. Minutes from the central bank's December meeting showed some members hesitant to hike the federal funds rate , citing the lack of inflationary pressure.

Officials agreed that "some further gradual increases" in the benchmark funds rate would be appropriate, though the low-inflationary backdrop means the Fed can "afford to be patient about further policy firming."

Powell has also underscored the Fed's dependence on economic data when making future decisions on whether to hike interest rates or adjust the rate at which it reduces its balance sheet.

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