NY Fed's Williams says central bank can avert 'downward trend' in inflation expectations

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

(Reuters) - U.S. central bank officials need to hold themselves accountable and boost communication of their strategy as they grapple with the challenge of preventing inflation - and inflation expectations - from falling too low, a senior Fed official said Thursday.

The goal is in sharp contrast to the obstacles experienced by previous generations, when policymakers battled inflation that was “undesirably high,” New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said Thursday according to remarks prepared for a Bank of England conference in London.

Interest rates are lower now than they were before the recession because of slow productivity growth, demographic changes and increased demand for safer assets, Williams said. Those lower rates limit Fed officials’ ability to reduce interest rates during a downturn, he said. A downward spiral in inflation expectations could lead to more constraints.

“If inflation continues to underrun target levels similar to the past six years, the downward trend in inflation expectations will likely continue,” Williams said. “But there is still time to avert this fate.”

Younger consumers, including millennials and Generation Z, cannot relate to people who lived through the high inflationary periods of the 1970s and 1980s, Williams said. But policymakers can use clear communication of their goals and strategy to shape future inflation expectations, he said.

“Keeping inflation expectations anchored at the right point will depend not just on policymakers holding themselves accountable for inflation, but on their ability to clearly execute and communicate their policies,” he said.

Williams did not comment on current monetary policy during his prepared remarks. Fed officials unanimously agreed to leave rates unchanged at last month’s policy meeting and signaled that rates are likely to stay pat for the time being without a substantial change in their economic outlook.

Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama