Finance

Fed’s Bostic says there’s no reason to change policy despite inflation fears

Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic told CNBC on Monday he’s comfortable with the central bank’s ultra-loose policy even as inflation gains steam in the economy.

“We are still 8 million jobs short of where we were pre-pandemic,” Bostic told CNBC’s Steve Liesman during a “Squawk Box” interview. “Until we make substantial progress to close that gap, I think we’ve got to have our policies in a very strongly accommodative situation or stance.”

The Fed is keeping short-term benchmark borrowing rates anchored near zero and is buying at least $120 billion in bonds each month.

That has come even as the consumer price index lurched up 4.2% in April, well above Wall Street’s expectations, and as Bostic’s own Atlanta Fed GDPNow tracker is putting second-quarter growth at 10.5%.

However, April’s disappointing jobs report, with nonfarm payrolls growing just 266,000 against projections for 1 million, has Fed policymakers likely on hold, where Bostic said he will be until he sees a broader economic recovery.

“I’m a nervous guy. I’m always thinking about scenarios. Are we staying in our position for too long? But I’m not seeing that right now, and I’m not really thinking that we need to act,” he said. “So, I’m going to keep my eyes open and I’m definitely going to pay close attention. But now is not the time where we have to consider moving.”

The Fed is committed to keeping policy in place until it reaches a full and inclusive employment goal, and will allow inflation to run above its 2% target until it averages around that level for an extended period.

Market-based measures of inflation continue to push higher. The 5-year breakeven rate, which compares inflation-indexed bonds to Treasury notes of the same duration, is at 2.68%, its highest level since July 2008.

However, other measures, including the Fed’s preferred personal consumption expenditures index and the Cleveland Fed’s inflation expectations measure, are well within the central bank’s targeted range.

In fact, Bostic said he considers rising inflation as a positive sign. He and other Fed officials have written off the most recent price increases as the result of temporary factors that likely will abate later this year.

“I actually think that having a healthy level of inflation is a sign that the economy is healthy, the economy is going to be dynamic and growing and that should translate into jobs for the people who everyone is concerned about at the lower end of the wage distribution,” he said.

“So [if] we don’t have an economy that gets people employed so they can have jobs and get to a more sustainable trajectory, then we’re going to have a much more difficult problem to face,” he added.

Bostic said researchers at the Atlanta Fed will spend the summer speaking to workers, business owners and others to get a better gauge on inflation expectations ahead.

“I don’t think we’re going to have answers on this until at least early fall, and it may take longer than that,” he said. “It all depends on how rapidly we recover.”

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