Is Federal Reserve doing enough? Getting consumer buy-in when the outlook is bleak

Autor: Article based upon analysis from Reuters Breakingviews | Link: Fed has won minds but will have to break hearts
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Jay Powell says he’ll do what it takes to get U.S. inflation under control. Households and investors seem to believe the Federal Reserve chief.

Yet, U.S. consumer prices in August remain 8.3% up from the previous year. That was slightly lower than the previous month, largely because gasoline prices are falling.

Fuel costs last month were 27.1% higher than a year earlier, an improvement on the 44.9% increase in July, but beyond that, the data is bleak. Food prices are rising at an annualized 11.4%, their fastest rate in 40 years.

Rent is going up 6.7%. In short, the Fed is a long way from the 2% annual inflation rate that it targets.

Expectations, though, are in check. Powell believes that their views of long-term inflation across the economy are “well anchored”. Christopher Waller, his fellow rate-setter seems to agree, as apparently do households.

Respondents to monthly surveys conducted by the New York Federal Reserve think inflation will be back down to 2.8% three years from now. That confidence can only be construed as a product of careful Fed stagecraft.

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Lael Brainard, another Powell colleague, states that the Fed is “in this for as long as it takes to get inflation down.” Markets on Tuesday were pricing in 75-base-point rate hikes in October and November this year, but just a month ago investors were predicting the central bank would raise official borrowing costs by just 50 and 25 basis points, respectively.

The hard part of reducing inflation is also the most painful part for American workers. The jobless rate was up in August, but only to a low 3.7%, encouraging consumers to keep spending. Households polled by the New York Fed expect job losses, but reckon their own jobs are safer than they’ve been in years.

Each new month of rapidly rising prices makes the future reckoning more painful. If the Fed’s goal is to get inflation to converge with future expectations, Powell has little choice but to dampen growth, make households feel poorer, indirectly creating higher unemployment.