Fed Chief Says U.S. Economy Is at an ‘Inflection Point’ as Risks Remain

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“It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks,” Jerome Powell said on “60 Minutes.”

WASHINGTON — The economy is at an “inflection point” and on the cusp of growing more quickly, the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night. But he warned that the crisis was not yet over.

In the interview, with “60 Minutes” on CBS, Mr. Powell said that the American economy “has brightened substantially” as more people are vaccinated and businesses reopen. But he cautioned that “there really are risks out there,” specifically coronavirus flare-ups, if Americans return to normal life too quickly.

“The principal risk to our economy right now really is that the disease would spread again more quickly,” he said. “And that’s troubling. It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks.”

The Fed has held interest rates near zero since March 2020 and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies meant to stoke spending by keeping borrowing cheap. Fed officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy until it is closer to their goals of maximum employment and stable inflation — and that while the situation is improving, it is not there yet.

Mr. Powell reiterated that approach on Sunday, saying that the central bank would “consider raising rates when the labor market recovery is essentially complete, and we’re back to maximum employment, and inflation is back to our 2 percent goal and is on track to move above 2 percent for some time.”

But he said it would “be a while until we get to that place.”

Discussing inflation, Mr. Powell once again made clear that the Fed wanted to see “sustainable” price increases before it adjusted monetary policy.

“Inflation has been below 2 percent,” he said. “We want it to be just moderately above 2 percent. So that’s what we’re looking for.”

“And when we get that,” he added, “that’s when we’ll raise interest rates.”

Some prominent onlookers have warned that the economy has the potential overheat as the federal government