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If there was uncertainty about whether the Fed planned to lower interest rates at its policy meeting this month, New York Fed President John Williams, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard and Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida all but ended it Thursday afternoon.

The big picture: The Fed has been setting up this rate cut since April. Since then policymakers have been shifting the focus from being "data dependent" to worrying about the unknown impacts of the U.S.-China trade war and slowing global growth, which has been happening since the year began, but wasn't highlighted until recently.

  • What they said: "The U.S. economy is in a good, good place," Clarida told Fox Business. "We have a solid growth rate. We have a strong labor market. Inflation is stable."

But, but, but: "The global economy's slowing, business investment has been soft. There [are] disinflationary headwinds abroad and these uncertainties are something that we talked about in our June meeting. We'll talk about them again in July."

  • Clarida added: "You don't need to wait until things get so bad to have a dramatic series of rate cuts.
  • "We need to make a decision based on where we think the economy may be heading and, importantly, where the risks to the economy are lined up."

New York Fed's Williams made the case for pre-emptive cuts during a speech in New York, saying, "When you only have so much stimulus at your disposal, it pays to act quickly to lower rates at the first sign of economic distress."

  • Cutting rates before there are problems, Williams said, "should vaccinate the economy and protect it from the more insidious disease of too low inflation," New York Times' Jeanna Smialek reported.
  • Williams' office made a point to clarify that his remarks were an academic discussion and not a commentary on the Fed's upcoming decision.

St. Louis' Bullard —who dissented at June's meeting, calling for a 25-basis-point cut — said in an interview that a couple rate cuts would likely prove warranted this year because of "trade uncertainty," which President Trump has moved "to the front burner."

What's next? The Fed begins its blackout period this weekend, so these were some of the last comments from Fed officials before their policy meeting on July 30–31.

Go deeper: The case for a Fed rate cut

Go deeper

Former FDA commissioner: "Reliable drug supply is absolutely critical"

Axios' Caitlin Owens and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan. Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Having a reliable supply of pharmaceutical drugs throughout America will be "absolutely critical" to boosting affordability in health care during the Biden administration, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Mark McClellan said at a virtual Axios Event on Friday.

The big picture: McClellan, who served under President George W. Bush, says drugs having limited supply and limited competition leads to elevated pricing. He considers drug supply to be a national security and public health issue.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.

The deplatforming fight shifts to the courts

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Capitol riot and tech firms' sweeping attempt in its wake to dislodge the online far right are kicking up efforts to have the courts settle knotty questions about online speech and power.

Why it matters: Legal battles could force the people angry at Big Tech to bring more rigor to arguments that have often devolved into messy sideshows.