US recession fears ‘overblown’: Fed’s Waller

Concerns the US economy will face a downturn amid the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate increases have been exaggerated, a top Fed official said Thursday.

The world’s largest economy still has a “spectacular” jobs market, and there are signs price pressures are starting to ease, Fed Governor Christopher Waller said.

The central bank last month implemented the biggest interest rate increase in nearly 30 years, and signaled a similar move was possible this month as policymakers worried inflation was getting entrenched.

That fueled an upsurge in predictions that US economy will collapse.

“I personally think some of the fears of a recession are kind of overblown,” Waller said during a fireside chat with the National Association for Business Economics (NABE).

The US is facing the highest price surge in more than 40 years — with Americans squeezed by rising costs for food, fuel and housing — made worse by the war in Ukraine.

Waller stressed that getting inflation down is the primary goal, even if that means inflicting some pain through a slowing economy.

He advocates “front loading” of rate hikes, with another super-sized increase in the key lending rate later this month, followed by a big step in September, after which the central bank can move to smaller hikes depending on how inflation and the economy behave.

The Fed’s policy committee “is dead set on getting inflation under control,” to avoid a repeat of the 1970s, he said, referring to the period when growth flatlined amid an inflationary spiral.

“We’re not going to let that happen,” he said.

“We may have to take the risk of causing some economic damage,” he acknowledged, but given how strong the job market is the moves are unlikely to cause “a real severe recession.”

He supports a second three-quarter point increase at the July 26-27 policy meeting, followed by a half-point hike in September “and then after that we can debate whether to go back down” to smaller steps.

Waller said Fed officials erred last year in thinking inflation would be transitory, and should have started taking steps sooner to prepare to remove stimulus from the economy.

“That turned out to be a kind of a big mistake” and put the Fed “behind the curve,” he said.

But the economy continues to add jobs — with Friday’s report expected to show another gain in June — with unemployment at a near historic low 3.6 percent and two job openings for every unemployed person in the labor force.

And he said housing prices are starting to come down, and businesses are more restrained in pricing decisions, a sign the Fed’s moves are having an impact. — Agence France-Presse

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