Monetary Policy Report submitted to the Congress on February 25, 2022, pursuant to section 2B of the Federal Reserve Act
U.S. economic activity posted further impressive gains in the second half of last year, but inflation rose to its highest level since the early 1980s. The labor market tightened substantially further amid high demand for workers and constrained supply, with the unemployment rate reaching the median of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants' estimates of its longer-run normal level and nominal wages rising at their fastest pace in decades. With demand strong, and amid ongoing supply chain bottlenecks and constrained labor supply, inflation increased appreciably last year, running well above the FOMC's longer-run objective of 2 percent and broadening out to a wider range of items. As 2022 began, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant appeared to be causing a slowdown in some sectors of the economy, but with Omicron cases having declined sharply since mid-January, the slowdown is expected to be brief.
Over the second half of last year, the FOMC held its policy rate near zero to support the continued economic recovery. The Committee began phasing out net asset purchases in November and accelerated the pace of the phaseout in December; net asset purchases will end in early March. With inflation well above the FOMC's longer-run objective and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate.
Recent Economic and Financial Developments
Economic activity and the labor market. In the second half of 2021, gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed somewhat from its brisk first-half pace but nevertheless rose at a solid annualized rate of 4.6 percent. Average monthly job gains remained robust at 575,000 in the second half. The unemployment rate has plummeted almost 2 percentage points since June and, at 4 percent in January, has reached the median of FOMC participants' estimates of its longer-run normal level. Moreover, unemployment declines have been widespread across demographic groups. That said, labor force participation only crept up last year and remains constrained. The tight labor supply, in conjunction with a continued surge in labor demand, has resulted in strong nominal wage growth, especially for low-wage workers. Supply bottlenecks also continued to significantly limit activity throughout the second half, while the Delta and Omicron waves led to notable, but apparently temporary, slowdowns in activity.
Inflation. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 5.8 percent over the 12 months ending in December, and the index that excludes food and energy items (so-called core inflation) was up 4.9 percent—the highest readings for both measures in roughly 40 years. Upward pressure on inflation from prices of goods experiencing both supply chain bottlenecks and strong demand, such as motor vehicles and furniture, has persisted, and elevated inflation has broadened out to a wider range of items. Services inflation has also stepped up further, reflecting strong wage growth in some service sectors and a significant increase in housing rents. While measures of near-term inflation expectations moved substantially higher over the course of last year, measures of longer-term inflation expectations have moved up only modestly; they remain in the range observed over the decade before the pandemic and thus appear broadly consistent with the FOMC's longer-run inflation objective of 2 percent.
Financial conditions. Yields on nominal Treasury securities across maturities increased notably since mid-2021, with much of the increase having occurred in the past couple of months, as the expected timing for the beginning of the removal of monetary policy accommodation has moved forward significantly. Equity prices decreased slightly, on net, and corporate bond yields rose but remain low, with stable corporate credit quality. Financing conditions for consumer credit continue to be largely accommodative except for borrowers with low credit scores. Mortgage rates for households remain low despite recent increases. Bank lending standards have eased across most loan categories, and bank credit has expanded. All told, financing conditions have been accommodative for businesses and households.
Financial stability. While some financial vulnerabilities remain elevated, the large banks at the core of the financial system continue to be resilient. Measures of valuation pressures on risky assets remain high compared with historical values. Nonfinancial-sector leverage has broadly declined, and credit growth in the household sector has been driven almost exclusively by residential mortgages and auto loans to prime-rated borrowers. Vulnerabilities from financial-sector leverage are within their historical range, with relatively lower leverage at banks partially offset by higher leverage at life insurers and hedge funds. Funding markets remain stable. Domestic banks continue to maintain significant levels of high-quality liquid assets, while assets under management at prime and tax-exempt money market funds have declined further since mid-2021. The Federal Reserve continues to evaluate the potential systemic risks posed by hedge funds and digital assets and is closely monitoring the transition away from LIBOR. (See the box "Developments Related to Financial Stability" in Part 1.)
International developments. Foreign GDP has continued to recover briskly, on balance, despite successive waves of the pandemic, which have been mirrored in slowdowns and rebounds in economic activity. This recovery has been supported by vaccination rates that have steadily increased in both advanced foreign economies and emerging market economies (EMEs). Inflation rose notably in many economies in the second half of last year, importantly boosted by higher energy and other commodity prices as well as supply chain constraints. Several emerging market foreign central banks and a few advanced-economy foreign central banks have raised policy rates, though foreign monetary and fiscal policies have generally continued to be accommodative.
Foreign financial conditions have tightened modestly but are generally contained. In advanced foreign economies, sovereign yields have increased since the first half of last year on firming expectations for higher policy rates. The change in financial conditions in EMEs has been relatively muted in the face of the shift in monetary policy in some advanced economies. The trade-weighted value of the dollar appreciated modestly, on net, over the past six months. Recent geopolitical tensions related to the Russia–Ukraine situation are a source of uncertainty in global financial and commodity markets.
Interest rate policy. The FOMC has continued to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent since the previous Monetary Policy Report. With inflation well above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate.
Balance sheet policy. From June 2020 until November 2021, the Federal Reserve expanded its holdings of Treasury securities by $80 billion per month and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by $40 billion per month. In December 2020, the Committee indicated that it would continue to increase its holdings of securities at least at this pace until the economy had made substantial further progress toward its maximum-employment and price-stability goals. Last November, the Committee judged that this criterion had been achieved and began to reduce the monthly pace of its net asset purchases. In December, in light of inflation developments and further improvements in the labor market, the Committee announced it would double the pace of reductions in its monthly net asset purchases. At its January meeting, the FOMC decided to continue to reduce its net asset purchases at this accelerated pace, which will bring them to an end in early March, and issued a statement of principles for its planned approach for significantly reducing the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet.1 A number of participants at the meeting commented that conditions would likely warrant beginning to reduce the size of the balance sheet sometime later this year.2
In assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook. The Committee is firmly committed to its price-stability and maximum-employment goals and is prepared to use its tools to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched while promoting a sustainable expansion and strong labor market.
Low labor supply. Labor supply has been slow to rebound even as labor demand has been remarkably strong. The labor force participation rate remains well below estimates of its longer-run trend, principally reflecting a wave of retirements among older individuals and increases in the number of people out of the labor force and engaged in caregiving responsibilities. The ongoing pandemic has also affected labor supply through fear of the virus or the need to quarantine. Moreover, savings buffers accumulated during the pandemic may have enabled some people to remain out of the labor force. (See the box "The Limited Recovery of Labor Supply" in Part 1.)
Wage and employment growth across jobs and workers. Wage and employment gains were widespread across jobs and industries last year, with the lowest-wage jobs experiencing the largest gains in both median wages and employment. Wage growth in the leisure and hospitality industry accelerated sharply, which, together with a lagging employment rebound and high job openings, suggests a lack of available workers in the industry. Median wages also increased across racial and ethnic groups, leaving differences in wage levels across groups little changed relative to 2019. (See the box "Differences in Wage and Employment Growth across Jobs and Workers" in Part 1.)
Broadening of inflation. Higher PCE price inflation broadened out over the course of 2021, with the share of products experiencing notable price increases moving appreciably higher. The broadening was evident in both goods and services, though most of last year's very high inflation readings were concentrated in goods, a reflection of the strong demand and supply bottlenecks that have particularly affected these items. (See the box "How Widespread Has the Rise in Inflation Been?" in Part 1.)
Supply bottlenecks. Supply chain bottlenecks have plagued the economy for much of the past year. Against a backdrop of robust demand for goods, global distribution networks have been strained, and domestic manufacturers have had trouble finding the materials and labor needed to fill orders for their products. U.S. ports have been congested amid record volumes of shipping, and delivery times for materials have remained elevated. Supply shortages of semiconductors have been particularly acute and have weighed heavily on motor vehicle production and sales. While there are some signs of improvement, general supply chain bottlenecks are not expected to resolve for some time. (See the box "Supply Chain Bottlenecks in U.S. Manufacturing and Trade" in Part 1.)
Developments in the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. The size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate given the reduced monthly pace of net asset purchases since November. However, reserve balances—the largest liability on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet—were little changed, on net, reflecting growth in nonreserve liabilities such as currency and overnight reverse repurchase agreements (ON RRP). The elevated level of reserves continued to put broad downward pressure on short-term interest rates, while the decline in Treasury bill supply over 2021 has contributed to a shortage of short-term investments. Amid these developments, the ON RRP facility continued to serve its intended purpose of helping to provide a floor under short-term interest rates and support effective implementation of monetary policy. (See the box "Developments in the Federal Reserve's Balance Sheet and Money Markets" in Part 2.)
Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy
Adopted effective January 24, 2012; as reaffirmed effective January 25, 2022
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is firmly committed to fulfilling its statutory mandate from the Congress of promoting maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. The Committee seeks to explain its monetary policy decisions to the public as clearly as possible. Such clarity facilitates well-informed decisionmaking by households and businesses, reduces economic and financial uncertainty, increases the effectiveness of monetary policy, and enhances transparency and accountability, which are essential in a democratic society.
Employment, inflation, and long-term interest rates fluctuate over time in response to economic and financial disturbances. Monetary policy plays an important role in stabilizing the economy in response to these disturbances. The Committee's primary means of adjusting the stance of monetary policy is through changes in the target range for the federal funds rate. The Committee judges that the level of the federal funds rate consistent with maximum employment and price stability over the longer run has declined relative to its historical average. Therefore, the federal funds rate is likely to be constrained by its effective lower bound more frequently than in the past. Owing in part to the proximity of interest rates to the effective lower bound, the Committee judges that downward risks to employment and inflation have increased. The Committee is prepared to use its full range of tools to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.
The maximum level of employment is a broad-based and inclusive goal that is not directly measurable and changes over time owing largely to nonmonetary factors that affect the structure and dynamics of the labor market. Consequently, it would not be appropriate to specify a fixed goal for employment; rather, the Committee's policy decisions must be informed by assessments of the shortfalls of employment from its maximum level, recognizing that such assessments are necessarily uncertain and subject to revision. The Committee considers a wide range of indicators in making these assessments.
The inflation rate over the longer run is primarily determined by monetary policy, and hence the Committee has the ability to specify a longer-run goal for inflation. The Committee reaffirms its judgment that inflation at the rate of 2 percent, as measured by the annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures, is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve's statutory mandate. The Committee judges that longer-term inflation expectations that are well anchored at 2 percent foster price stability and moderate long-term interest rates and enhance the Committee's ability to promote maximum employment in the face of significant economic disturbances. In order to anchor longer-term inflation expectations at this level, the Committee seeks to achieve inflation that averages 2 percent over time, and therefore judges that, following periods when inflation has been running persistently below 2 percent, appropriate monetary policy will likely aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time.
Monetary policy actions tend to influence economic activity, employment, and prices with a lag. In setting monetary policy, the Committee seeks over time to mitigate shortfalls of employment from the Committee's assessment of its maximum level and deviations of inflation from its longer-run goal. Moreover, sustainably achieving maximum employment and price stability depends on a stable financial system. Therefore, the Committee's policy decisions reflect its longer-run goals, its medium-term outlook, and its assessments of the balance of risks, including risks to the financial system that could impede the attainment of the Committee's goals.
The Committee's employment and inflation objectives are generally complementary. However, under circumstances in which the Committee judges that the objectives are not complementary, it takes into account the employment shortfalls and inflation deviations and the potentially different time horizons over which employment and inflation are projected to return to levels judged consistent with its mandate.
The Committee intends to review these principles and to make adjustments as appropriate at its annual organizational meeting each January, and to undertake roughly every 5 years a thorough public review of its monetary policy strategy, tools, and communication practices.
1. See the January 26, 2022, press release regarding the Principles for Reducing the Size of the Federal Reserve's Balance Sheet, available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20220126c.htm. Return to text
2. The minutes for the January 2022 FOMC meeting note these comments and are available on the Federal Reserve's website at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20220126.htm. Return to text
Note: This report reflects information that was publicly available as of noon EST on February 23, 2022 (the one exception is the GDP data published on February 24, 2022). Unless otherwise stated, the time series in the figures extend through, for daily data, February 22, 2022; for monthly data, January 2022; and, for quarterly data, 2021:Q4. In bar charts, except as noted, the change for a given period is measured to its final quarter from the final quarter of the preceding period.
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