Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said she’s confident in the outlook for economic growth and warned that waiting too long to end the era of near-zero interest rates could force the central bank to tighten too quickly, which would risk disrupting financial markets and the six-year expansion.
“Were the FOMC to delay the start of policy normalization for too long, we would likely end up having to tighten policy relatively abruptly to keep the economy from significantly overshooting both of our goals,” Yellen told the Economic Club of Washington on Wednesday. “Such an abrupt tightening would risk disrupting financial markets and perhaps even inadvertently push the economy into recession.”
Her comments are the latest sign that the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is poised to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006 at its Dec. 15-16 meeting in Washington. Fed officials have been trying to gauge whether the economy is headed toward their goals and can sustain growth as rates increase.
“On balance, economic and financial information received since our October meeting has been consistent with our expectations of continued improvement in the labor market,” Yellen said Wednesday. That “helps strengthen confidence that inflation will move back to our 2 percent objective over the medium term.”
Yellen emphasized that policy makers will receive a range of data on the labor market, inflation and economic activity between now and the December meeting that will influence their decision.
‘Mind Is Set’
Even so, “you come away thinking that her mind is set on a rate hike in December,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy at TD Securities LLC in New York. “We got the sense from her that what she’s seen so far is that the economy can handle that initial rate hike.”
The Fed’s Beige Book economic survey, released later Wednesday, showed a “modest” pace of expansion across most of the U.S. in October and November amid rising consumer spending. Pay gains were described as “generally stable to increasing,” with most districts saying wage pressures were only building for skilled workers and employees in short supply.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes climbed from a one-month low and the dollar hovered near the highest in more than a decade as investors reacted to Yellen’s remarks, which also pointed to recent improvements in the labor market and wages as positive signs.
“We have seen a welcome pickup in the growth rate of average hourly earnings for all employees and of compensation per hour in the business sector,” she said. “While it is too soon to conclude whether these more rapid rates of increase will continue, a sustained pickup would likely signal a diminution of labor market slack.”
U.S. employers added 271,000 jobs in October, the most this year, and unemployment has dipped to 5 percent, half of its 2009 peak. The Labor Department’s gauge of average hourly earnings has shown early signs of picking up, with 2.5 percent year-over-year growth in October, the highest since 2009. The final employment report before the December meeting is scheduled for release on Friday in Washington.
Inflation remains subdued, though, and the Fed’s preferred gauge hasn’t hit policy makers’ 2 percent goal since 2012. Yellen signaled confidence that price pressures may be moving up, referencing core inflation rather than the headline index the Fed prefers.
“It appears that the underlying rate of inflation in the United States has been running in the vicinity of 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent,” Yellen said, once the core data are adjusted for downward pressure from low oil prices and a stronger dollar. She noted that policy makers are paying close attention to indicators of inflation expectations, some of which have shown deterioration recently.
The initial rate liftoff is expected to be small, just 25 basis points, and Fed speakers including Yellen have emphasized that the pace of tightening going forward is more important than the timing.
“The Committee anticipates that even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run,” Yellen said Wednesday.
Yellen said the neutral interest rate — the one that neither stokes nor slows the economy — seems to have declined in the wake of the financial crisis, and its future path is uncertain. That could have implications for the pace of increases and ultimate level of the central bank’s main interest rate.
“If the Fed now thinks, as Yellen illustrated today and as the October FOMC minutes indicated, that the neutral real rate is close to zero, there is no way in the world the Fed will get even remotely close to 3.5 percent in this cycle,” Roberto Perli, a former Fed official who’s now a partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC in Washington, wrote in a note to clients. That number, 3.5 percent, is the median longer-run projection for the rate that Fed officials submitted in September.
Yellen sounded optimistic on the international outlook, saying China, which has seen growth slow this year, has taken actions to stimulate its economy and noting that other emerging-market economies are also easing monetary and fiscal policy. She said activity in those places has improved, and accommodative policy in advanced economies is also helping to support growth.
“A pickup in demand in many advanced economies and a stabilization in commodity prices should, in turn, boost the growth prospects of emerging market economies,” Yellen said.
Yellen will have another chance to elaborate on her outlook in testimony Thursday before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.
Prepaid Meter is Free, Buhari Warns DisCos, Agents
President Muhammadu Buhari once again warned Power Distributing Companies (DisCos) and their agents selling prepaid meters to electricity customers against the Federal Government directive that meter is free.
Ahmed Rufai Zakar, the Special Adviser to the President on Infrastructure, who represented Buhari at the FGN/NLC-TUC ad-hoc committee on electricity tariff stakeholders held in Ibadan, Oyo State on Wednesday, said President Buhari understood people’s concerns on issues surrounding electricity and was determined to curb and deal with unscrupulous individuals in the power sector.
He said, “We have made it very clear through the regulators direct order as well as intervention from the Ministry of Power that the meters are to be provided to Nigerians at no cost.
“Even for meters that were paid for, there is the directive from the regulator to the discos that they would need to find a way to reimburse those citizens over time.
“In cases where we find any disco or disco representative selling the meters or exploiting Nigerians to be able to get meters by paying, we would take the full measures of the law.
“The President has mandated that these meters must be free. We have also said that they must come from local manufacturers.
“This would create jobs and revive our industry.”
Nigeria’s Real Estate Sector Shrinks by 8.06% in the Third Quarter -NBS
Economic uncertainty plunged Nigeria’s real estate sector by 8.06 percent in the third quarter of the year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Nigeria’s statistics office said “In nominal terms, real estate services recorded a growth rate of –8.06 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, indicating a decline of –11.78 per cent points compared to the growth rate at the same period in 2019, and by 9.12 per cent points when compared to the preceding quarter.
“Quarter-on-quarter, the sector growth rate was 18.92 per cent.
“Real GDP growth recorded in the sector in Q3 2020 stood at -13.40 per cent, lower than the growth recorded in third quarter of 2019 by –11.09 per cent points, but higher relative to Q2 2020 by 8.59 per cent points.
“Quarter-on-quarter, the sector grew by 17.15 per cent in the third quarter of 2020.
“It contributed 5.58 per cent to real GDP in Q3, 2020, lower than the 6.21 per cent it recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2019.”
Nigeria’s economy contracted by 2.48 percent in the first nine months following a 6.10 percent and 3.62 percent contraction in the second and third quarters respectively.
Nigeria Requires N400 Billion Annually to Maintain Federal Roads -Senator Bassey
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on road maintenance, Senator Gersome Bassey, on Friday said Nigeria requires about N400 billion annually to maintain federal roads across the country.
The Senator, therefore, described the N38 billion budgeted for road repairs in the 2021 proposed Budget as grossly inadequate. According to him, nothing meaningful could be achieved by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) with such an amount.
He said, “For the 35 kilometres federal roads in the country to be motorable at all times, the sum of N400bn is required on yearly basis for maintenance.”
Bassey “What the committee submitted to the Appropriation Committee in the 2021 fiscal year is the N38bn proposed for it by the executive which cannot cover up to one quarter of the entire length of deplorable roads in the country.
“Unfortunately, despite having the power of appropriation, we cannot as a committee jerk up the sum since we are not in a position to carry out the estimation of work to be done on each of the specific portion of the road.
“Doing that without proposals to that effect from the executive, may lead to project insertion or padding as often alleged in the media.”
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