Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said he remained uncertain over whether this year’s financial market turmoil signaled global economic woes that could slow the U.S. economy.
“It is still early to judge the ramifications of the increased market volatility of the first seven weeks of 2016,” Fischer said in the text of a speech Tuesday in Houston.
The Fed’s No. 2 policy maker said if market developments lead to “a sustained tightening of financial conditions,” that could slow the global economy and affect growth and inflation in the U.S. “But we have seen similar periods of volatility in recent years — including in the second half of 2011 — that have left little visible imprint on the economy,” he said.
With three weeks to go before the Fed’s next policy meeting, officials are running out of time to send a credible signal to financial markets that a rate increase is still on the table. Based on pricing in federal funds futures markets, investor see about a 10 percent probability of an increase at the Federal Open Market Committee’s March 15-16 meeting in Washington.
Global stocks have dropped about 7 percent this year, and oil is down twice that much, partly on the fear that emerging markets, especially China, could slow more than expected, undermining U.S. exports and damping already-low inflation.
Fischer said recent economic data suggested the U.S. labor market has continued to improve while growth and inflation have shown signs of a pickup since the Fed raised rates in December.
Still, anticipating questions on what the FOMC will do at its upcoming session, he said, “I can’t answer that question.”
Fischer also repeated his assessment that a “modest overshoot” of the Fed’s current estimated level for full employment would help remove remaining slack in the labor market and move inflation back to the central bank’s 2 percent goal more rapidly.
Unemployment declined to 4.9 percent in January, hitting the median estimate among FOMC members for the long-run sustainable rate. Inflation, by contrast, remains well below target at 0.6 percent, as measured by the Fed’s preferred gauge of price pressures.
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