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Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell testifies during a hearing before Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee today. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve will consider pulling back economic support sooner "as the threat of persistently high inflation has grown," chair Jerome Powell said during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is the biggest signal yet the Fed is backing away from its stance that soaring prices would be fleeting — a change that could shift its policies that underpin the economy.

Catch up quick: Up until now, Powell has taken a hard line that elevated inflation would be "transitory" — a word that should now be retired, Powell said on Tuesday.

  • "The word 'transitory' has different meanings to different people. We tend to use it to mean that it won't leave a permanent mark in the form of higher inflation," Powell said, noting "transitory" should be swapped for more specific language.

What they're saying: Powell signaled the Fed at its next meeting would consider accelerating the winddown of the gargantuan bond purchases supporting the recovery — something critics warn are contributing to overheating the economy.

  • "At this point, the economy is very strong and inflationary pressures are high and it is therefore appropriate, in my view, to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases ... perhaps a few months sooner," Powell said.
  • The Fed announced it would steadily slow ("taper") bond buying earlier this month at a pace that would end the program by the middle of next year.

What's next: The Fed's next two-day policy meeting wraps up on Dec. 15.

Go deeper

What Biden's Fed nominations mean for policy

Sarah Bloom Raskin at a 2013 hearing. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

Now that President Biden's long-awaited nominations for vacant seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors have dropped, the big question is how Sarah Bloom Raskin, Lisa Cook, and Philip Jefferson, if confirmed, might shift policy.

  • The answer: Don't expect any big changes to the central bank's policy direction overnight — but do expect it to prioritize a healthy labor market more in the years ahead.

Why it matters: The Fed's actions shape the economy in ways that outlast the presidents who appoint them — and the Biden-appointed Fed looks to be a more explicitly pro-worker central bank than we've seen in modern times.

The big picture: With inflation running hot, the Fed is in the midst of a pivot to more hawkish monetary policy — possibly including raising interest rates in March.

  • Raskin, Cook, and Jefferson are unlikely to stand in the way of that pivot, and not just because the slow-moving Senate confirmation process means it will likely be well underway before they are confirmed for their new jobs.
  • The Fed is a consensus-driven institution, and the consensus has swung decisively in a hawkish direction in the last three months. Even normally-dovish officials like San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly and Chicago Fed president Charles Evans on board with the policy shift.

But over time, the new additions to the Board of Governors — who have a permanent vote on monetary policy, unlike regional Fed presidents who rotate — have emphasized the importance of running a hot labor market in order to achieve gains for workers and greater racial equality.

  • That implies the three new governors would resist continuing to push interest rates higher once inflation moderates.

What they're saying: "Inflation is so high and political pressures on the Fed are so strong (including from Democrats), that we doubt they will push hard against the will of the committee," wrote Roberto Perli and Benson Durham of Cornerstone Macro, in a client note.

  • But, they add, "Because all of them have expressed views in favor of broader expansion of the labor market, … we can expect them to resist substantial tightening in the future."

Regulatory policy is a different matter. If confirmed as vice chair for supervision — and Republican Senators will try to stop that from happening — Raskin would have more explicit power over a wide range of regulatory policy, and look to rein in the deregulatory impulses of her predecessor, Trump appointee Randal Quarles.

The bottom line: As the Biden Fed takes shape, it will include more voices focused on workers than in modern memory. But the course of policy depends on whether inflation trends allow them to act on those instincts.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden's latest Fed pick signals brewing climate battles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's plan to tap Sarah Bloom Raskin as top banking regulator at the Federal Reserve could intensify the central bank's already growing focus on climate change.

Catch up fast: The news broke Thursday night that Biden will nominate Raskin, a Duke University law professor, for the powerful role of vice chair for supervision.

Rising mortgage rates could slow house price surge

Chart: Axios Visuals

Mortgage rates have jumped to their highest level since early 2020.

Why it matters: The rising cost of home loans could slow the booming American market for residential real estate.

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