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Fed Chair Powell calls case 'strong' for more interest rate hikes

Key Points
  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the case for continuing to raise interest rate hikes is "strong."
  • He cited solid economic growth and progress toward full employment.
  • While speaking on his own, the central bank chief said the sentiment to hike rates is shared "broadly" within the Fed.
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Fed’s Powell: Case remains strong for continued rate increases

Citing robust growth and a generational low in unemployment, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell emphasized the central bank's commitment to further interest rate hikes in a speech Wednesday.

Economic gains are negating the need for crisis-era monetary policy, the Fed leader told a European Central Bank forum.

"Earlier in the expansion, as the economy recovered, the need for highly accommodative monetary policy was clear," Powell said, according to prepared remarks. "But with unemployment low and expected to decline further, inflation close to our objective, and the risks to the outlook roughly balanced, the case for continued gradual increases in the federal funds rate is strong."

His remarks came a week after the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise rates 0.25 percentage point. It was the sixth such increase since the Fed began normalizing policy in December 2015 after seven years of keeping its benchmark rate target anchored near zero as the economy recovered from the financial crisis.

VIDEO2:3502:35
Fed's Powell: Rate 'cushion' for economy doesn't play a part in my thinking

At that meeting, FOMC officials indicated they were likely to approve two more rate increases, bringing the 2018 total to four. Markets, though, have remained unconvinced, with the futures market assigning just a 50.9 percent chance to a fourth hike, according to the CME's FedWatch tool.

Powell spoke at length about the jobs market, saying that although wage pressures remain moderate there's still good reason to believe the economy is nearing full employment. The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, tied for the lowest rate since 1969. 

"Today, most Americans who want jobs can find them," he said. "High demand for workers should support wage growth and labor force participation."

As he has in the past, Powell stressed the need not to let accommodative policy stay in place too long. 

He pointed out that the last two recessions were caused by "financial imbalances" rather than inflation — the financial crisis of 2008 and the dot-com implosion in the early 2000s. However, he said he doesn't see anything worrisome from asset prices at present.

"While some asset prices are high by historical standards, I do not see broad signs of excessive borrowing or leverage. In addition, banks have far greater levels of capital and liquidity than before the crisis," Powell said.

While he said there remains uncertainty around monetary policy, the case for interest rate hikes is solid, a position he said is supported "broadly" by FOMC members.

WATCH: Powell says Fed's been careful not to tighten too quickly
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Fed's Powell: We've been very careful not to tighten too quickly