Lael Brainard: Navigating monetary policy through the fog of COVID

Speech (via webcast) by Ms Lael Brainard, Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, at the Perspectives on the Pandemic Webinar Series, hosted by the National Association for Business Economics, Washington DC, 14 July 2020.

Central bank speech  | 
16 July 2020
PDF full text
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 |  11 pages

The COVID-19 contraction is unprecedented in modern times for its severity and speed. Following the deepest plunge since the Great Depression, employment and activity rebounded faster and more sharply than anticipated. But the recent resurgence in COVID cases is a sober reminder that the pandemic remains the key driver of the economy's course. A thick fog of uncertainty still surrounds us, and downside risks predominate. The recovery is likely to face headwinds even if the downside risks do not materialize, and a second wave would magnify that challenge. Fiscal support will remain vital. Looking ahead, it likely will be appropriate to shift the focus of monetary policy from stabilization to accommodation by supporting a full recovery in employment and a sustained return of inflation to its 2 percent objective. 

A variety of data suggest the economy bottomed out in April and rebounded in May and June. Payroll employment rebounded strongly in May and June. Retail sales jumped 18 percent in May, exceeding market expectations, and real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) are estimated to have increased 8 percent. Consumer sentiment improved in May and June.  And both the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing Institute for Supply Management indexes jumped into expansionary territory last month. Financing conditions remain broadly accommodative on balance: They continued to ease over recent weeks for nonfinancial corporations and municipalities, although they remained stable or tightened slightly for small businesses and households.