WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Sunday the US central bank does “not feel any hurry” to change the level of interest rates again as it watches how a slowing global economy affects local conditions in the United States.
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Rates are currently “appropriate,” Mr Powell said in a wide-ranging interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes news show in which he called the current rate level “appropriate” and “roughly neutral,” meaning it is neither stimulating or curbing the economy.
An economic slowdown in China and Europe and other global issues currently pose the largest risks to an otherwise healthy US outlook, he said, though even in those place he felt “very negative outcomes” were not likely.
The interview – roughly eight years after former Chair Ben Bernanke appeared on the same show to discuss the Fed’s aggressive actions during the deep 2007 to 2009 recession – crossed a range of issues, including the health of the financial system, the impact of the opioid crisis on the work force, and President Donald Trump’s aggressive criticism of central bank rate hikes.
Now in year 10 of an expansion only just beginning when Mr Bernanke appeared on the show, Mr Powell vouched for the health and safety of an economy and banking system that has rebounded in many ways, with unemployment at record lows and banks better capitalised.
“The financial crisis did a great deal of damage to many people’s lives. And, of course, not all of them will be made whole,” Mr Powell said. But “our system is vastly more resilient and strong than it was before the financial crisis,” though he said risks from cyber attack remain a major concern.
“The business cycle has not been repealed. But I would say there’s no reason why this economy cannot continue to expand.”
He said there was little evidence of the sort of overextended market valuations his predecessor, former Chairman Alan Greenspan, famously labeled “irrational exuberance.” Credit spreads, stock market measures and other financial market indicators are running close to longer-run levels.
Regarding the president, Mr Powell said that it would not be “appropriate” for him to comment directly on Mr Trump’s remarks, which included calling the Fed “crazy” for raising interest rates four times last year. The target federal funds rate, currently at a range of between 2.25 and 2.5 percent, remain low by historical standards.
But he did say that he did not think the president, by law, had the power to fire him over a policy dispute.
Though the Fed recently shifted to a “patient” approach with interest rates on hold, he said that had nothing to do with Mr Trump.
He said the Fed would “never, ever” take “political considerations” into account in deciding on interest rates.