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Jerome Powell. Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / Getty Images

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday that rock-bottom interest rates aren't playing a role in driving stock prices higher, while noting that vulnerabilities to the financial system are "moderate."

Why it matters: The statement comes amid unshakeable stock prices and a Reddit-fueled market frenzy — prompting widespread fears of a bubble and the role monetary policy has played in that.

What he's saying: "What's been driving asset prices isn't monetary policy. Expectations about vaccines and fiscal policy — those are the news items that have driven asset values in recent months," Powell said at a news conference, following the release of the Fed's policy statement.

  • "The connection between low interest rates and asset values is not as tight as people think," Powell said, though he acknowledged that monetary policy does play some role.
  • Powell refused to comment directly on GameStop, which has been at the center of the high-flying stock mania.

The big picture: The Fed lowered interest rates to near zero at the outset of the pandemic, while launching a bond-buying program and a slew of unprecedented programs to address turmoil in the financial markets.

  • Market-watchers argue the Fed's measures have powered the stock market higher and pushed investors into riskier assets for higher returns.

Details: Powell said "there's nothing more important to the economy than vaccinations," while noting that social distancing and mask-wearing as the pandemic persists will help return the economy to normal.

  • (He said he has received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine).

Worth noting: Powell reiterated that the Fed wouldn't pull back on these measures until the economy recovers.

  • The Fed made no changes to interest rates or its bond-buying program.
  • It updated its closely watched policy statement to say the pace of the economic recovery has "moderated in recent months with weakness concentrated in the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic."
  • The Fed added that the path of the economy not only depended on the course of the virus, but also "progress on vaccinations."

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

SEC says it will "closely review" restrictions on Reddit-fueled stocks

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday warned Robinhood and other brokerages that it will "closely review" actions they took on Thursday that prevented investors from buying stock in GameStop and other popular Reddit-fueled stocks.

Why it matters: The move from Robinhood generated anger across the political spectrum and among small investors who wanted to participate in one of the most exciting stock-market trades of the moment.

Stock market has worst week since October amid Reddit frenzy

Photo: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wall Street had its worst week since October as day traders bid up stocks for GameStop, AMC and others that gained popularity on Reddit.

Details: The S&P 500 fell more than 1.9% on Friday. All of the major averages fell more than 3% this week.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.