Lael Brainard: Remaining patient as the outlook brightens

Remarks (via webcast) by Ms Lael Brainard, Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, at the National Association for Business Economics Virtual 37th Annual Economic Policy Conference, Washington DC, 23 March 2021.

Central bank speech  | 
25 March 2021

It has now been a year since the onset of COVID-19 in the United States. The past year has been marked by heartache and hardship, especially for vulnerable communities, as well as by the resilience and extraordinary efforts of Americans everywhere, particularly those on the front lines. The past year has also seen determined efforts on the part of policymakers-public health, fiscal, and monetary-to do what is necessary and stay the course until we return to full strength.

These determined efforts have contributed to a considerably brighter economic outlook. A comparison between the median of the most recent Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) and the first projection following the onset of the pandemic, in June of last year, highlights the improvement in the outlook. The change in the SEP median suggests an improvement in the projected level of gross domestic product of 6 percent at the end of 2021 and 2022, a decline in the unemployment rate of 2 percentage points at the end of 2021 and 1-1/2 percentage points at the end of 2022, and an upward revision to the headline inflation rate of 0.8 percentage point at the end of 2021 that narrows to a 0.3 percentage point upward revision at the end of 2022. The expected improvements in the outlook reflect progress on controlling the virus, nearly $3 trillion in additional fiscal support, and forceful and timely support from monetary policy.

Although the outlook has brightened considerably, the fog of uncertainty associated with the virus has yet to lift completely, and current employment and inflation outcomes remain far from our goals. The focus on achieved outcomes rather than the anticipated outlook is central to the Committee's guidance regarding both asset purchases and the policy rate. The emphasis on outcomes rather than the outlook corresponds to the shift in our monetary policy approach that suggests policy should be patient rather than preemptive at this stage in the recovery.