Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Thursday stressed again that the central bank is flexible and patient and can change policy on a dime if the economic outlook worsens.
“We’re waiting and watching,” Powell said in a moderated discussion at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon.
Asked about the Fed’s own projections for two interest rate increases in 2019, Powell said more rate hikes wasn’t a pre-set plan and the forecast of two moves was conditional on a “very strong outlook for 2019.”
Powell’s comments echo other speeches from other Fed officials and the minutes of the December meeting which said the central bank wanted to step back given the conflicting signals on the outlook.
While the economic data points to momentum, the stock market selloff suggests concern about downside risks, Powell said.
Powell said the Fed can be patient because inflation is “low and under control.”
In one area that might not be cheered by traders, Powell said the Fed’s steady and slow runoff of the assets it holds would result in a “substantially smaller” balance sheet.
Some analysts believe the Fed’s runoff of its balance sheet is hurting financial markets and want the central bank to end the program. Many Wall Street firms think the balance sheet runoff will end later this year.
As Powell concludes speaking, the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.03% traded slightly lower.