Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the case to raise interest rates is getting stronger as the U.S. economy approaches the central bank’s goals.
“In light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” she said in the text of a speech Friday to central bankers and economists in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
She also said the economy is “nearing” the Fed’s goals of full employment and stable prices. The Fed chair didn’t discuss the specific timing of a rate move in her first public comments since June.
The Federal Open Market Committee raised its target for the federal funds rate to a range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent in December, after keeping the benchmark near zero for seven years.
Despite their repeated intentions to raise the rate again, officials have skipped a hike at all five meetings this year, and futures markets have priced in about a 30 percent chance of another hike at the Sept. 20-21 policy meeting, the second-to-last gathering before presidential elections in November.
“While economic growth has not been rapid, it has been sufficient to generate further improvement in the labor market,” Yellen said at the Kansas City Fed’s annual conference, the title of which is “Designing Resilient Monetary Policy Frameworks for the Future.”
“Looking ahead, the FOMC expects moderate growth in real gross domestic product, additional strengthening in the labor market, and inflation rising to 2 percent over the next few years,” Yellen said in her prepared remarks.“Based on this economic outlook, the FOMC continues to anticipate that gradual increases in the federal funds rate will be appropriate over time to achieve and sustain employment and inflation near our statutory objectives.”
A Commerce Department report released earlier Friday showed the U.S. economy grew less than previously reported last quarter on lower government outlays and a bigger depletion of inventories, capping a sluggish first-half performance propped up mainly by consumer spending. Gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, rose at a 1.1 percent annualized rate, down from an initial estimate of 1.2 percent, the report showed.
The Fed chair’s speech comes amid a reassessment among central banks globally about future strategies for monetary policies, a topic she addressed in the second half of her remarks. Ageing populations, declining productivity and below-target inflation rates are likely to result in lower peaks in their policy interest rates. That means central banks are likely to reach the zero boundary on their policy rates faster in the next recession.
San Francisco Fed President John Williams, Yellen’s former research director when she was head of that bank, urged central banks in an essay earlier this month to “carefully reexamine” their strategies, and mentioned the possibility of raising inflation targets, among other options. By contrast, David Reifschneider, a special adviser to Fed governors, argued in a paper that “even in the event of a fairly severe recession, asset purchases and forward guidance should be able to compensate” for the Fed’s limited scope to reduce short-term rates.
Her review of the Fed’s “toolkit” began with a spirited defense of techniques used during the financial crisis, including bond purchases and pledges to hold rates low for an extended period. She made clear the Fed should retain those new tools. Those may be needed again, she said, as the next recession may arrive before interest rates rise to levels normally seen during an economic recovery.
“We expect to have less scope for interest rate cuts than we have had historically,” she said.
Without embracing their views, Yellen acknowledged that economists, including some prominent Fed officials, have suggested the Fed consider broadening its asset purchases if that strategy is required again, and raising its inflation target. “The FOMC is not actively considering these additional tools and policy frameworks, although they are important subjects for research,” she said.
Gold Prices Rise as Soft Dollar Supports Safe-haven Appeal
Gold prices firmed on Monday, propped up by a subdued dollar and slight retreat in the U.S. Treasury yields, with investors gearing up for a week of speeches from U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers for cues on the central bank’s rate hike path.
Spot gold was up 0.5% at $1,759.06 per ounce, as of 0400 GMT, while U.S. gold futures were up 0.4% at $1,759.00.
While the dollar index softened, the benchmark 10-year Treasury yields eased after hitting their highest since early-July. A weaker dollar offered support to gold prices, making bullion cheaper for holders of other currencies.
“Gold is still looking slightly precarious where it is right now, and it’s probably bouncing off key technical level around $1,750,” IG Market analyst Kyle Rodda said.
“Gold remains an yield story and that yield story is very much tied back to the tapering story.”
A slew of Fed officials are due to speak this week including Chairman Jerome Powell, who will testify this week before Congress on the central bank’s policy response to the pandemic.
“There’ll be a lot of questions being put to Fed speakers about what the dot plots implied last week and weather there is higher risk of heightened inflation going forward and that rate hikes could be coming in the first half of 2022,” Rodda added.
A pair of Federal Reserve policymakers said on Friday they felt the U.S. economy is already in good enough shape for the central bank to begin to withdraw support for the economy.
Gold is often considered a hedge against higher inflation, but a Fed rate hike would increase the opportunity cost of holding gold, which pays no interest.
Investors also kept a close watch on developments in debt-laden property giant China Evergrande saga as the firm missed a payment on offshore bonds last week, with further payment due this week.
Holdings of SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, increased 0.1% to 993.52 tonnes on Friday from 992.65 tonnes in the prior session.
Silver rose 0.9% to $22.61 per ounce.
Platinum climbed 1.3% to $994.91, while palladium gained 0.7% to $1,985.32.
Brent Crude Oil Near $80 Per Barrel Amid Supply Constraints
Oil prices rose for a fifth straight day on Monday with Brent heading for $80 amid supply concerns as parts of the world sees demand pick up with the easing of pandemic conditions.
Brent crude was up $1.14 or 1.5% at $79.23 a barrel by 0208 GMT, having risen a third consecutive week through Friday. U.S. Oil added $1.11 or 1.5% to $75.09, its highest since July, after rising for a fifth straight week last week.
“Supply tightness continues to draw on inventories across all regions,” ANZ Research said in a note.
Rising gas prices as also helping drive oil higher as the liquid becomes relatively cheaper for power generation, ANZ analysts said in the note.
Caught short by the demand rebound, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as OPEC+, have had difficulty raising output as under-investment or maintenance delays persist from the pandemic.
China’s first public sale of state oil reserves has barely acted to cap gains as PetroChina and Hengli Petrochemical bought four cargoes totalling about 4.43 million barrels.
India’s oil imports hit a three-month peak in August, rebounding from nearly one-year lows reached in July, as refiners in the second-biggest importer of crude stocked up in anticipation of higher demand.
Oil Holds Near Highest Since 2018 With Global Markets Tightening
Oil held steady near the highest close since 2018, with the global energy crunch set to increase demand for crude as stockpiles fall from the U.S. to China.
Futures in London headed for a third weekly gain. Global onshore crude stocks sank by almost 21 million barrels last week, led by China, according to data analytics firm Kayrros, while U.S. inventories are near a three-year low. The surge in natural gas prices is expected to force some consumers to switch to oil, tightening the market further ahead of the northern hemisphere winter.
China on Friday sold oil to Hengli Petrochemical Co. and a unit of PetroChina Co. in the first auction of crude from its strategic reserves said traders with the knowledge of the matter. Grades sold included Oman, Upper Zakum and Forties.
Oil has rallied recently after a period of Covid-induced demand uncertainty, with some of the world’s largest traders and banks predicting prices may climb further amid the energy crisis. Global crude consumption could rise by an additional 370,000 barrels a day if natural gas costs stay high, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“Underpinning the latest bout of price strength is a tightening supply backdrop,” said Stephen Brennock, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd.
Various underlying oil market gauges are also pointing to a strengthening market. The key spread between Brent futures for December and a year later is near $7, the strongest since 2019. That’s a sign traders are positive about the market outlook.
At the same time, the premium options traders are paying for bearish put options is the smallest since January 2020, another indication that traders are less concerned about a pullback in prices.
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