WASHINGTON – The scourge of rising prices now ranks among American business leaders’ top concerns, according to a survey released recently, while Federal Reserve official indicated the central bank is ready to move against inflation.
Official data shows signs the wave of increases may have peaked at the end of the year, but with inflation at its highest level in nearly four decades, more economists and some Fed officials say the central bank might have to be more aggressive to stem the surge.
Inflation is the number-two worry among chief executives, behind labor shortages, and the price pressures could persist into 2023, according to a survey by The Conference Board released Thursday.
“I’m very concerned about the high level of inflation,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said at her nomination hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.
Brainard, whom President Joe Biden nominated to serve as vice chair of the central bank, said most forecasts show prices are likely to stay high for the first half of the year and come down later in 2022.
But she warned to “take these projections with a fair amount of caution.”
Brainard told lawmakers the Fed will focus on bringing inflation back down to its two-percent target but will do so “consistent with a sustained and strong recovery.”
The Fed’s key inflation-fighting tool is the benchmark lending rate, which was slashed to zero at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many economists expect three rate hikes this year, but St Louis Federal Bank President James Bullard said Wednesday policymakers might have to be more aggressive and raise four times.
Another regional Fed president, Raphael Bostic of Atlanta, said he was open to hiking as early as March.
Brainard, however, said the moves would be made in a “well communicated way” to ensure a “measured” response by financial markets and allow the economy to continue to recover jobs.
If confirmed, Brainard would replace Richard Clarida, who in a paper released prior to his Friday departure from the Fed argued that the price increases were closer to the Fed’s target than they appear.
“The unwelcome surge in inflation in 2021, once these relative price adjustments are complete and bottlenecks have unclogged, will in the end prove to be largely transitory under appropriate monetary policy,” he wrote according to AFP.