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Powell Says No Bond Taper for ‘Some Time’ as Recovery Moderates

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Matthew Boesler and Steve Matthews
·4 min read
Powell Says No Bond Taper for ‘Some Time’ as Recovery Moderates
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(Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell made clear the U.S. central bank was nowhere near exiting massive support for the economy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as officials left their benchmark interest rate unchanged near zero and flagged a moderating U.S. recovery.

The central bank’s policy-making body repeated it would maintain its bond-buying program at the current pace of $120 billion of purchases per month until “substantial further progress” toward its employment and inflation goals has been made. It made no changes to the composition of purchases.

Follow reaction in real time here on Bloomberg’s TOPLive blog

Powell told a press conference Wednesday following a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee that it would take “some time” to achieve the threshold for altering asset purchases, making clear the central bank was not close to dialing them back.

“The whole focus on exit is premature,” he said, noting that the U.S was a long way from a full recovery and the Fed would take care to communicate clearly to make sure no one was taken by surprise of what he promised would be a gradual taper of purchases when the time came.

Some of his colleagues in recent weeks have publicly debated if a strong economic recovery from the pandemic might warrant scaling down the buying later this year. That gave investors a nervous reminder of the 2013 taper tantrum, when unexpected news the central bank was considering reducing its asset purchases sent yields sharply higher with damaging consequences for the economy.

Yields on 10-year Treasuries hovered just above 1%, the dollar held its advance while the S&P 500 closed 2.6% lower for its steepest drop since October amid growing concerns that stocks have become overvalued.

While stocks fell on Wednesday, Powell was asked multiple questions about soaring prices in recent months, but declined to comment directly on spikes in shares of GameStop Corp. in particular.

In his press conference, and in the policy statement issued earlier by the FOMC, the focus was on the economy.

“The pace of the recovery in economic activity and employment has moderated in recent months, with weakness concentrated in the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic,” the FOMC said in its statement. The revised language followed reports showing U.S. employment fell in December for the first time since April, and retail sales tumbled for a third straight month, amid resurgent coronavirus outbreaks across the country.

Powell said that the widespread availability of vaccines was grounds for optimism, noting “several developments point to an improved outlook for later this year.” He also said that he had received the first shot of the vaccine himself and expected to get the second soon.

Vaccination Roll-Out

The central bank also added a mention of vaccinations to its statement, saying the economy’s path will depend significantly not just on the coronavirus itself but also on progress with inoculations. The rollout has gotten off to a rocky start.

“The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus, including progress on vaccinations,” the statement said. “The ongoing public health crisis continues to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook.”

That drops a time reference to risks to the outlook “over the medium term” that appeared in their December statement.

What Bloomberg Economists Say

“Barring a deterioration in the public health situation or a botched vaccination rollout, policy makers continue to see decent economic prospects later this year.”

-- Carl Riccadonna, Yelena Shulyatyeva, Andrew Husby and Eliza Winger (Bloomberg economist). To read more click here

The committee unanimously voted to keep the federal funds target rate in a range of zero to 0.25%, where it’s been since March. In a separate move, the Fed reaffirmed its statement on longer-run goals updated in August, while making no changes.

As well as the annual rotation among regional Fed presidents who vote on the FOMC, its ranks were joined by Christopher Waller, who was sworn in as a governor on Dec. 18.

The committee’s decision marked the conclusion of the Fed’s first policy meeting since Democrats took control of the Senate in early January -- a development which was widely seen as brightening the outlook for the economy in 2021 by boosting the odds of additional fiscal stimulus.

That sunnier outlook had sent U.S. stocks to record levels and yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes above 1% for the first time since March, helped along by President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief package.

(Updates with closing market levels in sixth paragraph.)

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