U.S. Markets

Fed's 'good place' U.S. economy heads for congressional review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell takes his upbeat view of the U.S. economy to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, with markets and many of Powell’s colleagues expecting two more interest rate increases this year amid a continued economic expansion.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at his news conference after the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on interest rate policy in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018./File Photo

The Fed chair’s semiannual congressional testimony on monetary policy rarely breaks new ground, typically reviewing the Fed’s recent policy statements and economic forecasts and allowing lawmakers to question the Fed chair about specific issues.

The appearances have ranged from testy to civil under prior chairs, but Powell, appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate earlier this year, has made improved relations with Congress a priority.

He is expected to face particular grilling before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday by Democrats likely to zero in on the Fed’s lighter-touch approach to regulation. The Fed recently granted “conditional” approval to the capital plans of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, for example, even though they technically fell below minimum Fed thresholds during the central bank’s annual stress tests.

However, the formal report that Powell will be presenting, released by the Fed last week, held to the Fed’s core view that coming months will see the United States stick to a lane of steady growth, low unemployment and stability in the financial sector.

“I think the economy is in a really good place,” Powell said in a broadcast interview late last week, with growth likely to remain above trend for the time being and low unemployment expected to filter more forcefully into higher wages.

Powell will appear before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday in a second day of testimony.

One sour note: The International Monetary Fund on Monday cautioned that the global recovery may be slowing, and warned specifically that a developing tariff war between the United State and other large global economies could lop half a trillion dollars off of global growth by 2020.

The Fed under Powell has been pulled in two directions by administration policies, with the recent tax cuts and extra government spending adding to growth at least for now, but the approach to trade raising risks of a growth-sapping downturn in global commerce.

Powell in recent remarks has acknowledged the possible downside, but also said the outcome of the various administration trade proposals remains too unclear for the Fed to respond.

Recent statements by Fed officials and minutes of the last Fed meeting showed “increased apprehension” about how the spread of global tariffs might derail an otherwise positive outlook, Cornerstone Macro analyst Roberto Perli wrote in an advance note on Powell’s testimony. But “Powell cannot and most likely will not be precise about what the Fed will or will not do if trade tensions continue to escalate...There is still too much uncertainty.”

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci