WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - The following are highlights of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference on Wednesday following the end of the U.S. central bank’s March 18-19 monetary policy meeting.
”The share of long-term unemployment has been immensely high, and can be very stubborn in bringing down. That is something that I watch closely. Again, that remains exceptionally high.
But it has come down from something like 45 percent to high 30s. But that’s certainly in my dashboard ... I do think most research suggests that due to demographic factors, labor force participation will be coming down and there has been a downward trend now for a number of years.
I think there is also a cyclical component in the fact that labor force participation is depressed, and so it may be that as the economy begins to strengthen, we could see labor force participation flatten out for a time, as discouraged workers start moving back into the labor market.
So that is something I‘m watching closely. The committee will have to watch. There are different views on this, within the committee, and it’s hard to know definitively what part of labor force participation is structural versus cyclical. It is something to watch closely.
I’ve also mentioned in the past measures of labor market turnover. You mentioned ‘quits.’ Remarkably large share of workers quit their jobs every month, usually going directly into another job. I take the quit rate in many ways as a sign of the health of the economy, when workers are scared they won’t be able to get other jobs, they show a reduced willingness to quit their jobs. Quit rates now are below normal pre-recession levels.
The hires rate, however, remains extremely depressed. And I take that as a sign of a weaker labor market.
But most of these measures, although they don’t paint the identical extent of improvement, if you ask about my dashboard, the dial on virtually all of those things is moving in a direction of improvement.”
”The reason the committee felt that the time had come to revise the forward guidance is not because we think it has not been effective. I believe the committee does think it’s been effective.
I think it’s had a very useful impact in helping markets understand our expectations and shaping their own. But as the unemployment rate gets closer and closer to 6 and a half percent, that seems like the one that is likely to be breached.
The question is, markets want to know, the public wants to understand beyond that threshold, how will we decide what to do.
So the purpose of this change is simply to provide more information than we have in the past, even though it is qualitative information, about what we will be looking at as the unemployment rate declines below 6 and a half percent in deciding how long to hold the federal funds rate at this 0 to a quarter percent range.”
”There are a lot of kids who are shacking up with their families, and probably would like to be going out and acquiring places of their own, whether it’s an apartment or a home ... There is a lot of demographic potential there for new household formation that would ultimately generate new construction, either single or multi-family, and the level of rates I think does matter. And the fact that they are low now, I think, is something that should serve as a stimulus to people coming back into the housing market. And we have not yet seen a pickup after the lull, after interest rates went up last summer.
I do expect housing activity to begin to expand more rapidly later on.”
“Wage growth has really been very low. I know there is perhaps one isolated measure of wage growth that suggests some uptick. But most measures of wage increase are running at very low levels. In fact, with productivity growth we have and 2 percent inflation, one would probably expect to see on an ongoing basis something between perhaps 3 and 4 percent wage inflation would be normal.”
“Wage inflation has been running at 2 percent. So not only is it depressed, signaling weakness in the labor market, but it is certainly not flashing. An increase in it might signal some tightening or meaningful pressures on inflation, at least over time, and I would say we are not seeing that.”
“In terms of the situation in Ukraine and Russia, it’s something we are monitoring very closely. We discussed in our meeting, the direct trade linkages or exposures of the U.S. banking system to the Ukraine and Russia are not large ... We are not seeing meaningful impacts now. But obviously, there are geopolitical risks here, that it’s very important for us to be attentive to and to keep our eye on.”
“And we are not seeing broader global financial repercussions. But if this were to escalate, that would certainly be something that would be on our radar screen. But we are not seeing that now and we’re monitoring closely.”
“With respect to the issue of short-term unemployment, and it being more relevant for inflation and a better measure of the labor market, I’ve seen research along those lines. I think it would be tremendously premature to adopt any notion that says that that is an accurate read, on either how inflation is determined or what constitutes slack in the labor market.”
WEATHER‘S IMPACT ON ECONOMY
”Certainly weather has played an important role in weakening economic activity in Q1. It’s not the only factor that is at work, and most projections for growth in the first quarter are reasonably weak. It’s an important factor. It’s not the only factor.
But, I would say it’s likely in the view of most of the committee to begin to wash out in the second quarter, and we can even see some rebound.
Now, I would say, I know what we have said about weather is a little bit complicated and confusing. So let me just say between December and January, the committee saw data that led it to be quite a bit more optimistic about the economic outlook.”
“So the language that we use in the statement is ‘considerable period.’ ... This is the kind of term it’s hard to define, but ... probably means something on the order of around six months, or that type of thing.”
What the statement is saying is it depends what conditions are like. We’d need to see where the labor market is, how close are we to our full employment goal; that will be a complicated assessment, not just based on a single statistic. And how rapidly are we moving toward it? Are we really close and moving fast? Or are we getting closer but moving very slowly?
And then what the statement emphasizes - and this is the same language we used in December and January - we used the language, especially if inflation is running below our 2 percent objective. Inflation matters here too, and our general principle tries to capture that notion.
If we have a substantial shortfall in inflation, if inflation is persistently running below our 2 percent objective, that is a very good reason to hold the funds rate at its present range for longer.”
”And we have expressed a number of opinions about the likely path of rates. In particular, the committee has endorsed the view that it anticipates it will be a considerable period after the asset purchase program ends before it will be appropriate to begin to raise rates.
And of course, on our present path, that is not utterly pre-said, we would be looking at next fall. So I think that is important guidance ... I think it suggests a shallower glide path. What the committee is expressing here, I would say, is its forecast of what will be appropriate some years from now, based on the understanding that we have developed about what are the economic forces that have been driving economic activity. We have had a series of years now in which growth has proven disappointing.”
“The new guidance does not indicate any change in the policy intentions of the FOMC, but instead, reflects changes in the conditions we face ... progress in the labor market has been more rapid than we had anticipated. While inflation has been lower than the committee had expected, although the threshold served well as a useful guide to policy over the past year, last December the FOMC judged it appropriate to update that guidance, noting that the current target range for the federal funds rate would likely be maintained well past the time the unemployment rate declines below 6 and a half percent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal.”
”To my mind there is only very limited upward drift ... The committee in assessing the economy, if you compare today’s assessment with December‘s, is virtually identical.
As I mentioned, unemployment has come down. The labor market more broadly I think has improved a little more than we might have expected. And that slightly more rapid improvement in the unemployment picture might explain ... a little bit of the upward shift in those dots.
But more generally, I think that one should not look to the ‘dot plot’ so to speak as the primary way in which the committee wants to, or is, speaking about policy to the public at large.”
“Inflation has continued to run below the committee’s 2 percent objective. Given that longer-term inflation expectations appear to be well anchored, and in light of the ongoing recovery in the United States and in many economies around the world, the FOMC continues to expect inflation to move gradually back towards its objective. The committee is mindful that inflation running persistently below its objective could pose risks to economic performance.”
“The statement continues to note that in deciding on the pace for removing accommodation, the committee will take a balanced approach to attaining its objectives.”
The statement now adds the committee’s current anticipation: that even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping short-term interest rates below levels the committee views as normal in the longer run.
This guidance is consistent with the paths for appropriate policy as reported in the participants’ projections, which show the federal funds rate for most participants remaining well below longer-run normal values at the end of 2016.”
“Although FOMC participants provide a number of explanations for the federal funds rate target remaining below its longer-run normal level, many cite the residual impacts of the financial crisis, and some note that the potential growth rate of the economy may be lower at least for a time.”
”Labor market conditions have continued to improve. The unemployment rate at 6.7 percent is three-tenths lower than the data available at the time of the December meeting.
Further, broader measures of unemployment such as the U6 measure, which includes marginally attached workers and those working part time but preferring full-time work, have fallen even more than the headline unemployment rate over this period. And labor force participation has ticked up.”
Compiled by Lucia Mutikani, Margaret Chadbourn, Anna Yukhananov, Elvina Nawaguna and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Paul Simao