April 16, 2020 / 6:16 PM / a month ago

New York Fed's Williams says full economic consequences of coronavirus still unknown

FILE PHOTO: John Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, speaks at an event in New York, U.S., November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

(Reuters) - The Federal Reserve launched an unprecedented response to smooth out market disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, but the full scale of the virus’ toll on the economy is still unknown and it may take a few years before the U.S. economy fully recovers, New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said Thursday.

The Fed joined central banks around the world in efforts to bolster the global economy as the spread of the virus led to widespread closures of restaurants, museums and other businesses.

Investors have fled to safer assets, creating market volatility and spurring the Fed into action to keep cash flowing through key credit markets, Williams said in his first public remarks since the central bank slashed rates to zero in mid-March and launched open-ended purchases of Treasury securities, mortgage-backed securities and other assets.

“The coronavirus pandemic has created circumstances we have never experienced before in our lifetimes,” Williams said in a webinar organized by the Economic Club of New York. “The reality is that the full scale of the economic consequences is still unknown.”

Fed officials moved rapidly to stem the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic by cutting rates and launching a series of emergency lending tools meant to support money markets, corporate bonds, mortgage bonds and other markets. The New York Fed is tasked with executing most of those facilities.

“To put the current situation in context, we are running more open market operations, for greater sums, than at any time in our history,” Williams said.

Lorie Logan, the manager of the System Open Market Account, said earlier this week that the Fed’s actions helped to ease trading conditions in some markets. However, she said it may be a while before markets return to pre-crisis levels.

Williams also said Thursday that the uncertainty is not over. Once the spread of the virus is contained, it may take a while for consumers to feel safe attending concerts or other large events, Williams said during a moderated discussion.

“First we have to make sure we’re seeing the number of cases plateau and come down, and then think about a gradual return to normal,” Williams said, adding later that it may take one to two years to get the U.S. economy back to “full strength.”

Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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