Fed’s Powell signals a possible rate cut

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday repeated his pledge to do whatever it takes to keep the US economy growing and waved off fears of an imminent recession despite “significant risks” from uncertainty around trade.

“We are not forecasting or expecting a recession,” said Powell during a discussion with Chairman of the Swiss National Bank, Thomas Jordan, in Zurich.

Instead, he said the outlook of the US economy continues to be a “favorable one,” which he attributed to the Fed’s decision earlier this year to cut rates for the first time in a decade.

“We’re going to continue to act as appropriate to sustain this expansion,” Powell said.

The chairman’s comments — the last before Fed officials meet at their next meeting in Washington on Sept. 17-18 — was widely seen as a signal that policymakers are likely to cut again.

But investors have already been anticipating further cuts by the Fed since July’s first-in-a-decade cut, and failing to meet those expectations could trigger market turmoil.

Powell has for months faced increasing pressure from President Donald Trump, who has relentlessly demanded lower rates, and from the markets, with investors looking for any sign of relief amid increasingly worrying economic signals.

But the Fed chair repeated on Friday that the US economy continues to remain strong, pointing to the labor market, which added 130,000 jobs last month. He also said that inflation may rise to the level the Fed considers healthy for the US economy at 2%.

“The labor market is in a good place,” said Powell.

Even so, Powell did acknowledge “significant risks” facing the US economy that policymakers are watching closely. He cited trade uncertainty, a slowdown in global growth in Germany, China and Europe, and muted inflation.

For now, the Fed chairman is forecasting that the US economy will continue to see “moderate growth” for the remainder of the year, mainly due to robust consumer spending that hasn’t been weighed down by the turbulent trade war with China.

Powell noted that trade uncertainty has served as a drag on business investment, and promised the Fed would do whatever it could to continue to support the US economy.

“Our obligation is to use our tools to support the economy,” said Powell, who declined to weigh in on the Trump administration’s trade policy. “Trade policy uncertainty is not something that central banks have a lot of practice in dealing with.”

Powell was attacked once again earlier on Friday by the President, who again accused the Fed of failing to cut rates aggressively enough. “They were WAY too early to raise [rates], and Way too late to cut,” said Trump. “Where did I find this guy Jerome? Oh well, you can’t win them all.”

When asked during a question-and-answer session if the President’s criticism makes his job better or worse, Powell said, “We are totally and completely focused on our jobs.”

The Fed chairman was also asked about a controversial op-ed by former New York President William Dudley that implied the central bank, an independent agency, should consider allowing an escalation trade war to hurt Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.

“Absolutely not,” said Powell during the discussion. “Political factors have absolutely no role in our process. Our colleagues wouldn’t tolerate it in our discussions.”

He said the idea that the Fed would deviate from that is “simply wrong. The answer to that is, ‘A hard no.’