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    As Lebanon Collapses, Riad Salameh Faces Questions

    People can’t get their money from banks, the currency has crashed and Riad Salameh’s reign at the central bank is facing allegations of fraud.BEIRUT, Lebanon — For decades, Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank chief, was lauded at home and abroad as a financial wizard who kept the economy running and the currency stable despite wars, assassinations and frequent political turmoil.Not anymore.This country at the crossroads of the Middle East is suffering from a collapse of historic proportions: Its banks are largely insolvent, unemployment is soaring, its currency has crashed and many Lebanese blame Mr. Salameh for shortages that have left them struggling to afford food, scrambling to find medication and waiting in long lines to fuel up their cars.Now, Mr. Salameh is being accused of a perhaps more unforgivable sin: enriching himself and his inner circle through years of corruption. Paris anticorruption judges opened an investigation this month into criminal allegations that Mr. Salameh, one of the world’s longest-serving central bank chiefs, fraudulently amassed an outsize fortune in Europe by abusing his power. The judicial investigation follows a preliminary inquiry by the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office.Prosecutors in Switzerland have asked Lebanese authorities for help with a separate investigation into suspected embezzlement and money laundering linked to Mr. Salameh and his associates.The allegations have caused a sensation in a country enduring a crisis that the World Bank said recently could rank in the top three worldwide over the last 150 years, a “brutal” economic contraction of a magnitude “usually associated with conflicts or wars.”Despite the meltdown, Mr. Salameh, the architect of Lebanon’s monetary policy since 1993, has faced no serious calls for his ouster, even though he oversaw a strategy that required ever more borrowing to pay existing creditors, what some critics have called the world’s largest Ponzi scheme.Riot police officers stood guard in front of the Lebanese central bank in March during a rally against power cuts after two power plants shut down.Wael Hamzeh/EPA, via ShutterstockWhat shields Mr. Salameh from scrutiny at home is his central role in Lebanon’s complex sectarian and often corrupt web of business and political interests. More than 20 interviews with Lebanese, Western and monetary officials, economists and former colleagues of Mr. Salameh’s paint a picture of a brilliant and shrewd yet secretive operator who built an empire inside the central bank and used it to make himself essential to rich and powerful players across Lebanon’s political spectrum.“He is no longer the head of the central bank. He is the accountant for this mafia,” said Jamil al-Sayyed, a member of Parliament and former head of Lebanon’s General Security agency, the body that oversees domestic security and issues identity cards and passports. “He protects them, and in protecting him, they protect themselves.”But the investigations in France and Switzerland pose new threats to his standing.The French judges are investigating a complaint by Sherpa, a French anticorruption group, that accuses Mr. Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh, other relatives and Marianne Hoayek, who heads the central bank’s executive office, of illicitly sweeping funds from Lebanon into Swiss banks and then laundering millions in France through high-end real estate purchases, including luxury property near the Eiffel Tower. The judges have broad powers, which include seeking cooperation from the Lebanese authorities and freezing assets if the origin of their funding appears illegal.Mr. Salameh’s lawyer in France, Pierre-Olivier Sur, said Mr. Salameh disputed the entirety of the allegations.Separately, the Swiss attorney general’s office is examining a web of bank accounts from Switzerland to Panama that it says Mr. Salameh and his brother may have used to shelter the “possible embezzlement” of central bank funds and to “carry out money laundering.”Swiss prosecutors say documents show that Mr. Salameh hired Forry Associates, a brokerage firm owned by his brother, to handle central bank sales of government bonds, and that from 2002 to 2015 the bank transferred at least $330 million in commissions to the firm’s Swiss account. Mr. Salameh has said that the contract was legal.Large sums in the Forry account were moved to Swiss accounts held by Mr. Salameh, and a portion of the money was ultimately used to buy millions of euros’ worth of real estate in France, Germany, Britain and Switzerland, Swiss prosecutors said.At Heaven’s Joy in Beirut, a center for the elderly and people in need. More than half of the country’s 6.7 million people may be living below the poverty line, the World Bank said.Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York TimesBeyond the real estate, Swiss prosecutors are looking into allegations that Raja Salameh transferred over $200 million from Forry’s Swiss account to his accounts in Lebanese banks with powerful political ties. Among them was Bankmed, owned by the family of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who appointed Mr. Salameh as central bank chief, and whose son Saad Hariri is the country’s most prominent Sunni Muslim politician.Neither Mr. Salameh nor his brother or associates have been charged by Swiss or French prosecutors. It is unclear how long the investigations will take.Talk of self-dealing by Mr. Salameh has circulated for years. In the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman (now special envoy for the Horn of Africa), described Mr. Salameh in 2007 as having “whiffs of rumored corrupt behavior, a penchant for secrecy and extralegal autonomy at the Central Bank.”Mr. Salameh, 70, declined to be interviewed for this article, did not respond to written questions and has denied any wrongdoing. He has repeatedly said he accumulated a personal fortune of $23 million during a 20-year career as a banker at Merrill Lynch before being tapped to head the central bank. Raja Salameh could not be reached for comment.Riad Salameh told CNBC last year before the investigations were announced that he would not resign over Lebanon’s financial troubles because he had a “strategy to get out of this crisis.” He defended his record, saying he had kept Lebanon “afloat while it lived wars, assassinations, civil strife and so on.”“It is really unfair to judge Lebanon as if it was Sweden,” he said.But some Lebanese question how Mr. Salameh can remain at the helm of the central bank. Inflation has surged to 80 percent, overseas investors have left and more than half of the country’s 6.7 million people may be living below the poverty line, the World Bank said.“He is responsible for monetary policy, and it has failed dramatically,” said Henri Chaoul, a former adviser to Lebanon’s minister of finance who resigned last year. “Under what rules of law and governance is he still around?”Rafik Hariri, center, the former Lebanese prime minister who appointed Mr. Salameh as central bank chief.Jamal Saidi/ReutersA polished, canny political operator who is a Lebanese-French dual citizen, Mr. Salameh has been enmeshed in Lebanon’s politics since Rafik Hariri named him central bank governor in 1993. Mr. Salameh had been Mr. Hariri’s private banker at Merrill Lynch.Mr. Hariri was trying to rebuild Lebanon after a disastrous 15-year civil war, and Mr. Salameh set out to stabilize the currency and reel in foreign investment.Mr. Salameh fixed the Lebanese pound at about 1,500 to the dollar, a peg that would underpin the economy for more than 20 years but required a constant stream of dollars to stay sustainable.The system was fragile because it risked collapse if the money ran out. But every time Lebanon faced new crises, external help kept coming. The assassination of the elder Mr. Hariri in 2005 and a destructive war between the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 brought inflows of international aid. Wealthy members of the Lebanese diaspora continually sent foreign currency home.Mr. Salameh’s supporters hailed him as a skilled savior for keeping the economy stable in a country where nothing else seemed to be. As governments came and went, running chronic budget deficits, Mr. Salameh held fast to the money reins.In Lebanon’s sect-based political system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, which Mr. Salameh is, and his reputation as a financial mastermind at one point made him a contender for the country’s highest office. He once told a businessman who asked about his economic plans, “Get me the presidency and I’ll tell you.”Mr. Salameh also used his post to do favors for power brokers in Lebanon’s political system, according to former central bank employees and foreign officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Sons of prominent officials got jobs at the central bank. Businessmen, politicians and journalists producing favorable coverage allegedly benefited handsomely from central bank-subsidized loans and other financial arrangements that most likely would have raised red flags with regulators in other countries.But after decades of relative stability, Mr. Salameh’s system began to unravel. By 2015, Lebanon’s ratio of debt to economic output — a measure of debt’s burden on a nation’s economy — was the third highest in the world, at 138 percent; when Mr. Salameh took office, it was 51 percent, ranking 97th. Next door, a civil war was raging in Syria, raising fears of instability.Protesters last month in Beirut took to the streets, angered by deteriorating living conditions and government inaction.Bilal Hussein/Associated PressCommercial banks, saddled with risky Lebanese sovereign bonds, had been required to keep 15 percent of foreign currency deposits in the central bank to shore up its reserves, and Mr. Salameh attracted further deposits with even higher interest rates.Interest rates on dollar deposits at commercial banks also rose, in some cases to 20 percent or higher, to attract dollars in what some analysts describe as a Ponzi scheme, in which new money was always needed to pay creditors.In late 2019, the system came crashing down. Banks imposed limits on withdrawals and the central bank began dipping into its reserves, which included large amounts of depositors’ money, to maintain the currency’s peg to the dollar. Antigovernment protesters set fire to A.T.M.s, and banks locked their doors.“As long as the system was working, no one cared,” said Dan Azzi, a former Lebanese banker. “Now that it has failed, everyone is angry.”The government’s default on a $1.2 billion bond payment in March 2020 underscored the collapse. “Our debt has become greater than Lebanon can bear,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a televised speech.The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August further devastated the economy.Estimates put the central bank’s losses at $50 billion to $60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered assistance, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr. Salameh of blocking an audit sought by the United States and other countries that would unlock I.M.F. aid, as well as a separate investigation into alleged fraud at the central bank.Most Lebanese have said goodbye to whatever savings they had while the currency has crashed, reducing salaries once worth $1,000 a month to about $80. The central bank is burning through its reserves, spending about $500 million per month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicine and grain.“Lebanon has been living on borrowed time, and now the chickens have come home to roost,” said Toufic Gaspard, a Lebanese economist and former adviser at the I.M.F. “The whole banking system has collapsed, and we have become a cash economy.”The crash has soured many Lebanese on their once celebrated central banker.“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, a co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, while having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not stuck in the banks, but simply stolen.”His friend, Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he had once admired Mr. Salameh for keeping Lebanon financially stable but had changed his mind.Mr. Salameh, he said, had gone spectacularly off course.“Every country has its mafia,” Mr. Tanios said. “In Lebanon, the mafia has its country.”Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Liz Alderman from Paris. 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    Inflation Likely to Remain High in Coming Months, Fed Chair Powell Says

    Price gains are up “notably,” Jerome Powell told House lawmakers. That’s because of several temporary factors.Jerome H. Powell told House lawmakers that inflation had increased “notably” in the country’s reopening from the pandemic and would most likely stay higher in the next months before moderating.Pool photo by Graeme JenningsJerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that inflation had increased “notably” and was poised to remain higher in coming months before moderating — but he gave no indication that the recent jump in prices will spur central bankers to rush to change policy.The Fed chair attributed rapid price gains to factors tied to the economy’s reopening from the pandemic, and indicated in response to questioning that Fed officials expected inflation to begin calming in six months or so.Mr. Powell testified before the Financial Services Committee at a fraught moment both politically and economically, given the recent spike in inflation. The Consumer Price Index jumped 5.4 percent in June from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 2008 and a larger move than economists had expected. Price pressures appear poised to last longer than policymakers at the White House or Fed anticipated.“Inflation has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell said in his opening remarks.He later acknowledged that “the incoming inflation data have been higher than expected and hoped for,” but he said the gains were coming from a “small group” of goods and services directly tied to reopening.Mr. Powell attributed the continuing pop in prices to a series of factors: temporary data quirks, supply constraints that ought to “partially reverse” and a surge in demand for services that were hit hard by the pandemic.He said longer-run inflation expectations remained under control — which matters because inflation outlooks help shape the future path for prices. And he made it clear that if the situation got out of hand, the Fed would be prepared to react.“We are monitoring the situation very carefully, and we are committed to price stability,” Mr. Powell said. He added that “if we were to see that inflation were remaining high and remaining materially higher above our target for a period of time — and that it was threatening to uproot inflation expectations and create a risk of a longer period of inflation — then we would absolutely change our policy as appropriate.”For now, the Fed chair voiced comfort with the central bank’s relatively patient policy path even in light of the hotter-than-expected price data. He said that the labor market was improving but that “there is still a long way to go.” He also said the Fed’s goal of achieving “substantial further progress” toward its economic goals before taking the first steps toward a more normal policy setting “is still a ways off.”Fed officials are debating when and how to slow their $120 billion of monthly government-backed bond purchases, which would be the first step in moving policy away from an emergency mode. Those discussions will continue “in coming meetings,” Mr. Powell said.The central bank is also keeping its policy interest rate near zero, which helps borrowing remain cheap for consumers and businesses. Officials have set out a higher standard for lifting that rate from rock bottom: They want the economy to return to full employment and inflation to be on track to average 2 percent over time.The Fed’s guidance states that officials want to see inflation “moderately” above 2 percent for a time, and Mr. Powell was asked on Wednesday what that standard meant when price pressures were so strong.“Inflation is not moderately above 2 percent — it’s well above 2 percent,” Mr. Powell said of the current data. “The question will be where does this leave us in six months or so — when inflation, as we expect, does move down — how will the guidance work? And it will depend on the path of the economy.”Raising rates is not yet up for discussion, officials have said publicly and privately. The bulk of the Fed’s policy-setting committee does not expect to lift borrowing costs until 2023, based on its latest economic projections.Given Mr. Powell’s comments, that watchful stance is unlikely to shift, economists said.“We still don’t think higher inflation will result in a quicker policy tightening,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote in response to Mr. Powell’s prepared testimony. “Asset purchases probably won’t start to be tapered until next year, with interest rates not raised until the first half of 2023.”The Fed is weighing the risks of higher inflation against the huge number of people who remain out of work. Congress has tasked the central bank with fostering both stable prices and maximum employment. While price pressures have picked up markedly, there are still 6.8 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, the month before pandemic layoffs started in earnest.That so many people remain out of work is something of a surprise, because employers report widespread labor shortages, and wage increases and signing bonuses abound as they try to lure talent.“Labor shortages were often cited as a reason firms could not staff at desired levels,” according to the Fed’s latest “Beige Book” of anecdotal economic reports from business contacts across its 12 districts. “All districts noted an increased use of nonwage cash incentives to attract and retain workers.”Mr. Powell said he expected people to return to work as health concerns abated and other issues keeping people sidelined faded, and he predicted that “job gains should be strong in coming months.” More

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    Cryptocurrency Seeks the Spotlight, With Spike Lee’s Help

    The filmmaker’s commercial for a crypto company is one of many recent marketing efforts to make digital cash palatable for newbies.Before Spike Lee accepted cryptocurrency, he turned down Crocs.Years ago, the filmmaker rejected an offer to buy into the Colorado company that makes perforated foam clogs, a decision that caused him to miss out when its stock soared on the strength of the footwear fad.“I wish I would’ve given some money back then,” Mr. Lee said in a recent interview. “Anytime something is new, you’re going to have people who are going to be skeptical. With some of the best ideas, people thought the inventors were crazy.”Now he has taken a leap into another cultural craze, having agreed to direct and star in a television commercial for Coin Cloud, a company that makes kiosks for buying and selling Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Although cryptocurrency is not widely used for transactions, an increasing number of merchants now accept it as payment.The commercial, which he shot last month, is one of several recent marketing efforts meant to broaden the audience for a form of currency that can intimidate people accustomed to cash and credit cards.Mr. Lee, outfitted nattily in a straw hat and gold-tipped cane while filming part of the commercial on Wall Street, led a diverse cast that included his daughter Satchel, the “Pose” actress Mj Rodriguez and the drag queen Shangela. Other shoot locations included Fort Greene Park and the Chillin’ Bar and Grill in Washington Heights, where breakfast patrons craned to catch a glimpse of the director as he filmed a Coin Cloud machine on the sidewalk.“Old money is not going to pick us up; it pushes us down,” Mr. Lee says in the commercial, which portrays the cryptocurrency system as a more accessible and equitable alternative to traditional, discriminatory financial institutions.“The digital rebellion is here,” he says.Cryptocurrency has also been known to intimidate investors, with its extreme volatility and the overwhelming number of virtual alternatives, known as coins. The marketing of this relatively new money has so far been limited mostly to ads on trade websites and targeted pushes on social media, where aficionados swap meme-fueled in-jokes about coin values rocketing to the moon.The industry is increasingly betting that celebrities can help demystify cryptocurrency for the uninitiated.The actor Alec Baldwin offered crisp definitions of cryptocurrency in a series of online ads for the crypto trading platform eToro, and the National Football League star Tom Brady signed on as a brand ambassador for FTX, a crypto exchange that also has a deal to sponsor Major League Baseball.Alec Baldwin is advertising for the cryptocurrency trading platform eToro.eToroThe actor Neil Patrick Harris recently appeared in a TV commercial for the digital currency kiosk operator CoinFlip. “Now anyone, anywhere, can turn cash into crypto!” he declares.EToro and Coinbase, another exchange, collectively spent $22.8 million on advertising last year, nearly double the $12.4 million they shelled out in 2019, according to the research firm Kantar. In recent months, Coinbase hired the Martin Agency, the advertising company behind GEICO and DoorDash.As Madison Avenue fields more inquiries from cryptocurrency clients, agency executives are feeling pressure to better communicate the investment risks, rather than romanticize the industry.“I get very nervous because I start looking at the way that some of the platforms are specifically targeting younger investors,” said Alex Hesz, the chief strategy officer of the advertising giant DDB Worldwide. In the face of frenzied cryptocurrency trading, ad agencies should push for moderation and diversification, he said. “Maximizing is what’s being encouraged here — the idea that this is an amazing asset, and as much as you want to put in, come on and jump on in, the Bitcoin’s lovely,” Mr. Hesz said. “We would never feel comfortable for an alcohol client, or a high-salt or high-sugar or high-fat client, to encourage that level of unequivocal behavior.”Some celebrity endorsements of cryptocurrencies have run into trouble. In 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission cautioned that some famous people were hyping the virtual currency sales known as initial coin offerings without disclosing that they had been paid to promote them. The commission has since settled charges against the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., the music producer DJ Khaled and the actor Steven Seagal.Social media influencers and e-sports stars have also been linked to shady cryptocurrency schemes, accused of pumping up coins just before their value crashes.Coin Cloud’s chief marketing officer, Amondo Redmond, said he hoped Mr. Lee’s stature would help elevate the industry by delivering something “more than just cool creative, but that is really at the forefront of digital currency becoming mainstream.”“It’s more than just adding a celebrity face,” he said.Mr. Lee, who won an Oscar in 2019 in the best adapted screenplay category for “BlacKkKlansman,” has worked on ads for Capital One, Uber and, most famously, Nike. In the 1980s and 1990s, he directed and starred in commercials for Air Jordans, playing his cinematic alter ego Mars Blackmon opposite Michael Jordan.“That was lightning in a bottle,” Mr. Lee said from a flight bound for the Cannes Film Festival, where he is the first Black person to lead the festival jury.He declined to say how much he had been paid for the Coin Cloud commercial, but noted that “if anyone’s known my body of work over the last four decades, you kind of know about the way I see the world, and when they approached me, it fit in line.”As the coronavirus pandemic continues to highlight financial disadvantages for people of color, Mr. Lee hopes to promote cryptocurrency as neutral to race, gender, age and other identifying characteristics.But he was no expert before filming began, and had to take “a crash course” on crypto. He insisted that the commercial include a line urging viewers to do their own research on virtual money.Mr. Lee said he now planned to invest in virtual coins. He said he would not, however, go anywhere near the digital ownership certificates known as nonfungible tokens.“NFTs, I don’t understand that,” he said, laughing. “I’m old school, so sometimes my children have to turn on the TV — all those remotes and stuff.” More

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    Top U.S. Officials Consulted With BlackRock as Markets Melted Down

    The world’s largest asset manager was central to the pandemic crisis response. Emails and calendar records underscore that critical role.As Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin scrambled to save faltering markets at the start of the pandemic last year, America’s top economic officials were in near-constant contact with a Wall Street executive whose firm stood to benefit financially from the rescue. More

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    Fed Minutes April 2021: Officials Hint They Might Soon Talk About Slowing Bond-Buying

    Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s April meeting showed some officials wanted to soon talk about a plan to pull back some central bank support for the economy if “rapid progress” persisted.Federal Reserve officials were optimistic about the economy at their April policy meeting as government aid and business reopenings paved the way for a rebound — so much so that and “a number” of them began to tiptoe toward a conversation about dialing back some support for the economy.Fed policymakers have said they need to see “substantial” further progress toward their goals of inflation that averages 2 percent over time and full employment before slowing down their $120 billion in monthly bond purchases. The buying is meant to keep borrowing cheap and bolster demand, hastening the recovery from the pandemic recession.Officials said “it would likely be some time” before their desired standard was met, minutes from the central bank’s April 27-28 meeting released Wednesday showed. But the minutes also noted that a “number” of officials said that “if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases.”The line was among the clearest signals yet that some Fed officials had considered beginning a serious conversation about pulling back monetary help. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, has been repeatedly asked whether the central bank is “talking about talking about” slowing its so-called quantitative easing program — and he has consistently said “no.”In fact, when he faced the question at a news conference following the April meeting, Mr. Powell said, “No, it is not time yet. We have said we’ll let the public know when it is time to have that conversation, and we’ve said we’d do that well in advance of any actual decision to taper our asset purchases, and we will do so.”That could be because while a “number” of individual policymakers are beginning to think out loud about when to begin discussing the policy shift, the full committee has yet to decide to start the conversation.In any case, the April minutes may already be out of date. Surprising and at times confusing data released since the meeting could make the Fed’s assessment of when to dial back support — or even to start talking about doing so in earnest — more difficult. A report on the job market showed that employers added far fewer new hires than expected. At the same time, an inflation report showed that an expected increase in prices is materializing more rapidly than many economists had thought it would.“You just have to gather more information,” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives and a former Fed economist. “It’s going to be noisy for months, and months, and months.”The Fed has also set its policy interest rates at near-zero since March 2020, in addition to its bond purchases. Both policies are meant to help an economy damaged by pandemic shutdowns to recover more quickly.Officials have been clear that they plan to slow down bond-buying first, while leaving interest rates at rock bottom until the annual inflation rate has moved sustainably above 2 percent and the labor market has returned to full employment.Markets are extremely attuned to the Fed’s plans for bond purchases, which tend to keep asset prices high by getting money flowing around the financial system. Central bankers are, as a result, very cautious in talking about their plans to taper those purchases. They want to give plenty of forewarning before changing the policy to avoid inciting gyrations in stocks or bonds.Stocks whipsawed in the moments after the 2 p.m. release, tumbling as yields on government bonds spiked. The S&P 500 regained some of its losses by the end of the day, ending down 0.3 percent. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped to 1.68 percent.Even before the recent labor market report showed job growth weakening, Fed officials thought it would take some time to reach full employment, the minutes showed.“Participants judged that the economy was far from achieving the committee’s broad-based and inclusive maximum employment goal,” the minutes stated. Many officials also noted that business leaders were reporting hiring challenges — which have since been blamed for the April slowdown in job gains — “likely reflecting factors such as early retirements, health concerns, child-care responsibilities, and expanded unemployment insurance benefits.”When it comes to inflation, Fed officials have repeatedly said they expect the ongoing pop in prices to be temporary. It makes sense that data are very volatile, they have said: The economy has never reopened from a pandemic before. That message echoed throughout the April minutes and has been reiterated by officials since.“We do expect to see inflationary pressures over the course, probably, of the next year — certainly over the coming months,” Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, said during congressional testimony on Wednesday. “Our best analysis is that those pressures will be temporary, even if significant.”“But if they turn out not to be, we do have the ability to respond to them,” Mr. Quarles added.Mr. Quarles pointed out that the central bank lifted interest rates to guard against inflationary pressures after the global financial crisis. The expected pickup never came, and in hindsight pre-emptive moves were “premature,” he said. He suggested that the central bank should avoid repeating that mistake.He said that the key was for the central bank to be prepared, but that if it tried to stay ahead of inflation now it could end up “significantly constraining the recovery.”Mr. Quarles’s comments came in response to repeated — and occasionally intense — questioning by Republican lawmakers during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, many of whom cited concerns about the recent price inflation report. The back-and-forth underlined how politically contentious the Fed’s patient approach could prove in the coming months. Inflation is expected to remain elevated amid reopening data quirks and as supply tries to catch up to consumer demand.Some lawmakers pressed Mr. Quarles on how long the Fed would be willing to tolerate faster price gains — a parameter the central bank as a whole has not clearly defined.When it comes to increases, “I don’t think that we can say that one month’s, or one quarter’s, or two quarters’ or more is necessarily too long,” Mr. Quarles said. More

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    A Fed vice chair says trying to choke off inflation could ‘constrain’ the recovery.

    Randal K. Quarles, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for supervision and regulation, said that the central bank was monitoring inflation but that for now it expected the pickup underway to be temporary — and that reacting too soon would come at a cost.“For me, it’s a question of risk management,” Mr. Quarles said during testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. “History would tell us that the economy is unlikely to undergo these inflationary pressures for a long period of time.”Mr. Quarles pointed out that after the global financial crisis, the central bank lifted interest rates to guard against inflationary pressures. The expected pickup never came, and in hindsight the moves were “premature,” he said. He suggested that the central bank should avoid repeating that mistake.“We’re coming out of an unprecedented event,” Mr. Quarles said, noting that officials have the tools to tamp down inflation if it does surprise central bankers by remaining elevated. The Fed could dial back bond purchases or lift interest rates to slow growth and weigh down prices.He said that the key is for the central bank to be prepared, but that if it tried to stay ahead of inflation now it could end up “significantly constraining the recovery.”Mr. Quarles’s comments came in response to repeated — and occasionally intense — questioning by Republican lawmakers, many of whom cited concerns about a recent and rapid pickup in consumer prices. The back and forth underlined how politically contentious the Fed’s patient approach to its policy could prove in the coming months. Inflation is expected to remain elevated amid reopening data quirks and as supply tries to catch up to consumer demand.Some lawmakers pressed Mr. Quarles on how long the Fed would be willing to tolerate higher prices — a parameter the central bank as a whole has not clearly defined.When it comes to increases, “I don’t think that we can say that one month’s, or one quarter’s, or two quarters’ or more is necessarily too long,” Mr. Quarles said. He noted that it was possible that inflation expectations could climb amid a temporary real-world price increase. But if that happened and caused a “more durable inflationary environment, then the Fed has the tools to address it,” he said. More

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    Banks Fight $4 Billion Debt Relief Plan for Black Farmers

    Lenders are pressuring the Agriculture Department to give them more money, saying quick repayments will cut into profits.WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors. More

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    China’s Biggest ‘Bad Bank’ Tests Beijing’s Resolve on Financial Reform

    Chinese regulators say they want to clean up the country’s financial system, but a state-owned conglomerate may ultimately get in the way.HONG KONG — BlackRock gave it money. So did Goldman Sachs.Foreign investors had good reason to trust Huarong, the sprawling Chinese financial conglomerate. Even as its executives showed a perilous appetite for risky borrowing and lending, the investors believed they could depend on Beijing to bail out the state-owned company if things ever got too dicey. That’s what China had always done. More