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Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

“Transitory” officially reached buzzword status midyear — when it exited the realm of financial wonks and seeped into the outside world where everyday people were talking about inflation.

The latest: Even so, no one knew exactly what it meant in the context of inflation — because the Federal Reserve has never really defined it. On Wednesday, though, Fed chair Jerome Powell went further than he has before in explaining how he interprets the term.

What he’s saying: “Transitory is a word that people have had different understandings of. For some, it carries a sense of ‘short-lived,’ and that there's a real-time component, measured in months,” Powell said at the Fed press conference.

  • He went on to say that, for the Fed, it’s not so much a measurement of time — but rather a question of whether the current trend of rising prices will lead to “permanently or persistently high inflation.”

In other words, if inflation is transitory, then “there may be a cyclical storm on the surface, but … it won't leave behind structural pressures on the economy,” Daniela Mardarovici, co-head of U.S. multisector fixed income at Macquarie Asset Management, tells Axios.

The big picture: Many have taken sides in the argument over whether inflation is transitory (as the Fed says it is) — with or without a common understanding of what that means.

  • The Fed’s view on it informs if and when it will take extraordinary measures in the economy, like raising interest rates from emergency, rock-bottom levels.

The bottom line: Providing more of a window into how he views the concept helps Powell’s credibility — and the markets seem to buy it so far.

Go deeper: Fed chair lays out taper timeline, says rate liftoff not discussed at FOMC meeting

Go deeper

Nov 23, 2021 - Podcasts

How COVID testing should factor into your Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving around the corner, COVID cases in the U.S. are rising in most states and across the country. That has us asking what role testing is going to play in keeping ourselves and our families safe for the holidays.

  • Plus, Jerome Powell is nominated for a second term to lead the Fed.
  • And, why some cities are giving Universal Basic Mobility a try.

Guests: Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician, former Baltimore health commissioner, and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University; and Axios' Courtenay Brown and Bryan Walsh.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Updated 12 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.