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    Japan’s Economy Shrank 1 Percent as Consumers Fled Covid

    TOKYO — Last December, after two years of stop-and-go growth, Japan’s economic engine seemed like it might finally be revving up. Covid cases were practically nonexistent. Consumers were back on the town, shopping, eating out, traveling. The year 2021 ended on a high note, with the country’s economy expanding on an annual basis for the first time in three years.But the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, geopolitical turmoil and supply chain snarls have once again set back Japan’s fragile economic recovery. In the first three months of the year, the country’s economy, the world’s third largest after the United States and China, shrank at an annualized rate of 1 percent, government data showed on Wednesday. A combination of factors contributed to the decline in growth. In January, Japan had put into place new emergency measures as coronavirus case numbers, driven up by Omicron, moved toward the highest levels of the pandemic. In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, spiking energy prices. And that was before China, Japan’s largest export market and a key supplier of parts and labor to its manufacturers, imposed new lockdowns in Shanghai, throwing supply chains into chaos.The contraction has not been as “extreme” as previous economic setbacks thanks to high levels of vaccine uptake and less wide-ranging emergency measures than during previous waves of the coronavirus, according to Shinichiro Kobayashi, principal economist at the Mitsubishi UFJ Research Institute.But Japan’s economic recovery from the enormous damage done by the pandemic has also not been as fast as the United States, China or the European Union, he said.Understand the Supply Chain CrisisThe Origins of the Crisis: The pandemic created worldwide economic turmoil. We broke down how it happened.Explaining the Shortages: Why is this happening? When will it end? Here are some answers to your questions.A New Normal?: The chaos at ports, warehouses and retailers will probably persist through 2022, and perhaps even longer.A Key Factor in Inflation: In the U.S., inflation is hitting its highest level in decades. Supply chain issues play a big role.“The pace has been slow,” he said, adding that Japan was the “only country among major economies that hasn’t recovered.”Growth is likely to bounce back strongly in the second quarter, analysts said, a pattern that has defined Japan’s economy during the pandemic: Demand has waxed as Covid cases have waned, and vice versa.Still, growth in the coming months will face some tough challenges. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have fueled big increases in the costs of food and energy in Japan. And moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve to tackle high inflation have caused the value of the Japanese currency, the yen, to plummet. That has driven up costs in the resource-poor country, which is highly dependent on imports for food, fuel and raw materials.Inflation in the country, while still modest, is rising at its fastest pace in years, with consumer prices in Tokyo increasing by 2.5 percent in April. And over the last year, prices for producers have shot up 10 percent, the highest levels since 1980.China’s draconian efforts to keep Covid under control are likely to create additional disruptions for Japanese companies that manufacture, source parts and export their goods there.How the Supply Chain Crisis UnfoldedCard 1 of 9The pandemic sparked the problem. More

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    Powell says the Fed is watching for ‘clear and convincing’ signs of inflation fading.

    Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the central bank is focused on getting rapid inflation under control and that it is ready to intensify its efforts to tamp down price pressures if they do not begin to ease as policymakers expect.“What we need to see is clear and convincing evidence that inflation pressures are abating and inflation is coming down — and if we don’t see that, then we’ll have to consider moving more aggressively,” Mr. Powell said, speaking Tuesday afternoon on livestream hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “If we do see that, then we can consider moving to a slower pace.”Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the prior year, and while inflation eased somewhat on an annual basis, the details of the report suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.The central bank has begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, announcing a quarter-point increase in March and a half-point increase earlier this month, which was the Fed’s largest increase since 2000. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push borrowing costs higher as they attempt to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance.They could raise rates by half-percentage-point increments at each of the Fed’s next two meetings, Mr. Powell suggested after the central bank’s May meeting. He repeated that message on Tuesday.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what that means for inflation.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.“There was very broad support on the committee for having on the table the idea of doing additional rate increases of that magnitude at each of the next two meetings,” Mr. Powell said. “That’s short of a prediction.”While Mr. Powell emphasized the economic outlook is very uncertain, he and his colleagues have suggested that they want to push interest rates up to a neutral setting — a place where they are neither stoking nor slowing growth — “expeditiously.” But Mr. Powell suggested that officials are willing to raise rates beyond that if it is necessary to do so to control inflation.“We won’t hesitate at all to do that,” he said. “We will go until we feel like we’re at a place where we can say, ‘Yes, financial conditions are at an appropriate place, we see inflation coming down.’”The Fed chair said that the central bank can no longer simply hope that supply chain issues improve and help inflation to fade, and that it has to instead be proactive in trying to restrain prices by cooling down the economy.“We clearly have a job to do on demand — there is an imbalance in the economy broadly between demand and supply,” Mr. Powell said. He pointed in particular to the labor market, where workers are in short supply and wages are rising swiftly as employers compete to hire them.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Retail sales rise for the fourth straight month as prices keep climbing.

    Retail sales rose 0.9 percent in April, increasing for the fourth consecutive month, as consumer prices continue to escalate at their fastest pace in four decades.The increase in spending in the United States last month follows a revised 1.4 percent month-over-month gain in March, when prices for gasoline soared amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices cooled down slightly in April but were still at elevated levels, while oil prices remain volatile.Consumers pulled back on spending at gas stations, where sales fell 2.7 percent in April, the Commerce Department reported on Tuesday, and the report showed that shopping at grocery stores and building material stores dropped last month.Sales at restaurants and bars were up 2 percent in April, while spending at department stores was up 0.2 percent. Spending at car dealers, which has been hampered by supply chain disruptions and a global computer chip shortage, rose 2.2 percent last month.Economists are laser-focused on upcoming reports on spending because they serve as indicators of how consumers are grappling with inflation and higher interest rates.“Despite the surge in prices weighing on their purchasing power, the U.S. consumer now appears to be single-handedly keeping the global economy afloat,” Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.The Commerce Department’s new data, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, was an early estimate of spending during a month when prices rose 0.3 percent from the prior month. The rapid pace of inflation has led companies to raise prices for their goods to cover the higher costs of commodities, labor and transportation. Companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have introduced higher prices for their products, and airfares are also climbing.To combat inflation, the Federal Reserve started lifting interest rates from near zero in March. Economists are worried that if interest rates are raised too fast, the move could lead the economy into a recession by slowing down consumer demand too much.“To the extent that markets are worried about a growth slowdown, this is good news,” Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, wrote in a note, referring to Tuesday’s report. “But it is also a further catalyst for the Fed to raise rates even higher, in order to get inflation under control.” More

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    Stocks Return to Earth, With the S&P 500 Nearing a Bear Market

    Until very recently, the stock market seemed to defy gravity, producing double-digit returns that provided many Americans with financial comfort even as everything else crumbled around them.When the pandemic began upending society, the market sank for a few weeks and then recorded one of the greatest rallies in history. Stock prices rose the day rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, and they were up during the week that protests roiled many American cities after the murder of George Floyd. During this time of great upheaval, the market seemed to flash a contrarian signal that things were going to be OK — economically, at least.But real world problems have finally crashed the stock market’s party. Soaring inflation, fueled by rising food prices and the war in Ukraine, has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates significantly for the first time in many years, which has sent stock prices plummeting to earth.Stocks rose 2.4 percent on Friday, but not enough to make up for a week of declines. It was the sixth consecutive week of losses for the stock market, the first time that has happened since 2011. The S&P 500, which has been flirting with a bear market, or a drop of 20 percent, is down more than 16 percent since its peak in January. It may fall further as inflation persists and a recession looms.Even after the bleeding stops, stock market investors, who include more than 50 percent of Americans, could face years of relatively meager returns that will leave them with substantially less money to pay for their children’s college education and support themselves in retirement.This reckoning comes just months before the midterm elections, deepening problems for Democrats who are already struggling to convince voters that their party and President Joseph R. Biden are steering the economy on the right track.Former President Donald J. Trump often took credit for the stock market’s meteoric rise. Now, Mr. Biden and his party will almost certainly take some of the blame for its recent fall.In reality, the stock market is not a perfect measure of the real economy. Unemployment is low and consumer spending is still holding up, but more than a month of punishing losses can damage the country’s financial psyche.“People look at the stock market as a barometer of the economy and how they are faring financially,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “They feel good when they see green on the screen and crummy when they see red.”Years of low rates have been rocket fuel for stock prices, partly because other investments, like bonds, that are pegged to interest rates produce such minimal returns. The stock market became one of the few places where investors could make big money.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.During the pandemic, rates went even lower, as policymakers sought to support businesses and consumers through the shutdowns — and it worked. Investors piled into companies’ stocks and kept them flush with capital, which allowed them to keep hiring, paying rent, ramping up production and, of course, rewarding shareholders with ample dividends and stock buybacks.But inflation, which puts a heavy burden on families trying to make ends meet, also helped kill the market’s mood. Steadily rising food costs and record high gasoline prices prompted the Fed to raise rates and try to slow the economy.The stock price of Alphabet, Google’s parent, is down about 20 percent since the start of the year.Laura Morton for The New York TimesWall Street has been expecting this moment to come for a long time. But the market’s reaction — which some refer to as a “reset” and others call a necessary “comeuppance” for stock investors — is painful nonetheless.“I don’t think people recognized how fragile of a foundation the stock market was resting on,” said Emily Bowersock Hill, founder of Bowersock Capital Partners and chairwoman of the investment committee of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, a pension fund with more than $20 billion.Ms. Hill said some of the declines were probably good for the market because it was clearing out the froth that created the conditions for “meme stocks”: companies with dubious business prospects like AMC Theatres, BlackBerry and Bed Bath & Beyond, whose share prices were driven up by speculators.But the downdraft has sunk the share prices of companies that represent innovation and the future, too; Amazon is down more than 30 percent since the start of the year and Alphabet, Google’s parent, is off about 20 percent, as investors rethink those companies’ real value.Virtually no stocks have been spared from losses. The market decline has “gone on and on, and it’s depressing,” Ms. Hill said.Perhaps no one understood that emotional symbolism of the market better than Mr. Trump.“The reason our stock market is so successful is because of me,” Mr. Trump said in November 2017 — one of many statements in which he boasted about rising stock prices or publicly pressured the Fed to further lower interest rates to juice the economy.Early in the pandemic, in April 2020 — with stores, offices and churches shut, children marooned at home attempting remote school, and morgues running out of space for virus victims — Mr. Trump tweeted that the United States had “the biggest Stock Market increase since 1974.”While a majority of Americans have some money invested in the stock market, it remains a rich person’s game. According to an analysis by the New York University economics Professor Edward Wolff, the top 5 percent of American wealth holders own 72 percent of all stocks.But the stock market’s symbolic value matters. “It’s the one story that makes the news every night,” said Richard Sylla, a professor emeritus of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.Is the market up or down? Are we winning or losing today, this week, this year, this presidency?On Friday, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell lower than expected, a drop that some economists attribute partly to stock market losses. The index is now 13 points below the low when Covid first hit, noted Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Such deep pessimism “suggests that people have short memories,” Mr. Shepherdson wrote in a research note.It also suggests trouble for the Biden administration. Not only is the stock market party ending under President Biden’s watch, it could be a while before another one gets going.“Now nobody is going to be getting much richer from stocks,” one market historian predicts.Gili Benita for The New York TimesMr. Sylla, who co-wrote a book about the history of interest rates and tracked two centuries of stock market returns, correctly predicted in September 2011 that the coming decade would produce high returns.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Jerome Powell Confirmed for a Second Term as Fed Chair

    Jerome Powell, whom the Senate confirmed to a second term on Thursday, said allowing rapid inflation to persist would be more painful.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said in an interview on Thursday that lowering inflation is likely to be painful but that allowing price gains to persist would be the bigger problem — squaring off with the major challenge facing his central bank as he officially starts his second term at its helm.Mr. Powell, whom Senators confirmed to a second four-year term at the head of the central bank in an 80-19 vote on Thursday, holds one of most consequential jobs in the United States and the world economy at a moment of rapid inflation and deep uncertainty.Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the previous year, according to data reported on Wednesday. And while inflation eased slightly on an annual basis, it remained near the fastest pace in 40 years, and the details of the release suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.The Fed has already begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, making its largest increase since 2000 when it lifted borrowing costs by half a percentage point this month. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push rates higher as they try to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance and drive inflation lower.Mr. Powell suggested Thursday in an interview with Marketplace that an even bigger 0.75 percentage point interest rate increase, though not under consideration at the moment, could be appropriate if economic data come in worse than officials expect.“The process of getting inflation down to 2 percent will also include some pain, but ultimately the most painful thing would be if we were to fail to deal with it and inflation were to get entrenched in the economy at high levels,” Mr. Powell also said. “That’s just people losing the value of their paycheck to high inflation and, ultimately, we’d have to go through a much deeper downturn.”Mr. Powell, who was chosen as a Fed governor by former President Barack Obama and then elevated to chair by former President Donald J. Trump, was renominated by President Biden late last year.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Though he has been popular among lawmakers for much of his tenure, several Republicans and Democrats voted against the nomination. Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey, cited the central bank’s failure to promote Latino leaders. Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, cited high inflation in opposing Mr. Powell, posting on Twitter that “we should not reward failure.”Inflation is likely to be the defining challenge of Mr. Powell’s second term. As Mr. Shelby’s comments suggest, the Fed has been criticized for responding too slowly to rapid price gains last year. Mr. Powell has emphasized that policymakers did the best they could with the data in hand.“If you had perfect hindsight, you’d go back and it probably would have been better for us to have raised rates a little sooner,” Mr. Powell said in his interview with Marketplace. “I’m not sure how much difference it would have made, but we have to make decisions in real time, based on what we know then, and we did the best we could.”With Mr. Powell’s confirmation, Mr. Biden has now appointed four of the Fed’s seven governors in Washington, putting his imprimatur on the central bank at a crucial moment.The Senate last month confirmed Lael Brainard, formerly a Fed governor, as Mr. Biden’s choice for the Fed’s vice chair, an influential position within the central bank.This week, the Senate confirmed two other new Fed governors — Lisa D. Cook and Philip N. Jefferson. Mr. Biden has also nominated Michael S. Barr as the new vice chair for supervision, and his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled for next week.Ms. Brainard and Mr. Powell have long been aligned on policy, and the Fed’s newest governors — Ms. Cook and Mr. Jefferson — indicated during their confirmation hearings that they, too, are focused on fighting inflation. Fed officials view stable prices as a crucial building block for sustainable economic growth.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Biden Says Inflation Is His ‘Top Domestic Priority’

    President Biden tried on Tuesday to deflect blame for rising prices with a direct attack on Republicans for pursuing what he called an “ultra-MAGA agenda,” a phrase he has used in recent days as a reference to former President Donald J. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.Mr. Biden’s critics have assailed the president for months as inflation has risen to 8.5 percent, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981. A news release from the Republican National Committee on Tuesday accused him of being “desperate to blame anyone but himself for the worst inflation in 40 years,” adding that “the American people know he is responsible.”Seeking to turn the debate over the economy against his opponents six months before the midterm congressional elections, Mr. Biden and his top White House aides insisted that “extreme” policy ideas from Republicans would make inflation worse, not better.“Look, the bottom line is this: Americans have a choice right now between two paths, reflecting two very different sets of values,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at the White House. “My plan attacks inflation and grows the economy by lowering costs for working families, giving workers well-deserved raises, reducing the deficit by historic levels and making big corporations and the very wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.”By contrast, he said, Republican policies would help the wealthiest Americans and big corporations while leaving working families to bear the brunt of cost increases.The president’s message on Tuesday was part of an attempt to change the national conversation about the economy in ways that Democrats hope will shield them from a punishing result at the ballot box in November.Mr. Biden delivered his remarks a day before another economic report was expected to show uncomfortably high prices. While the Consumer Price Index, which will be released on Wednesday morning, could show that inflation cooled somewhat from March, most economists still expect the report to show inflation running above 8 percent.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.But Mr. Biden has seized on a program set forth by Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called the “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which critics have said would impose taxes on millions of Americans who pay none now and phase out programs like Social Security and Medicare after five years.Other Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have repudiated elements of the plan, which Mr. Scott put forward as a platform for the midterm elections. But the White House on Tuesday ignored any disagreement among Republicans, describing the proposal as the only comprehensive economic plan put forth by the party to deal with inflation.“This is not the last you’ve heard from us about Chairman Scott’s tax plan that will raise taxes,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, promised. She pointed out that Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, had praised Mr. Scott’s plan, as had some congressional Republicans.Ms. Psaki said it was Mr. Biden’s decision to use the phrase “ultra-MAGA” to refer to Mr. Scott’s plan and other Republican policies, saying he believed it added “a little extra pop” to his critique of the Republican agenda. And she said the president’s speech on Tuesday was just the beginning.“I can tell you, whether it’s tomorrow or in days and weeks ahead, you will all continue to hear him talk more about his concern about ultra-MAGA Republicans,” she said.Earlier Tuesday, the president sought to convince Americans that he understood the pain they were feeling from rising prices and that his administration was taking steps to address higher costs for fuel, food and other goods.“I know that families all across America are hurting because of inflation,” Mr. Biden said. “I understand what it feels like. I come from a family where, when the price of gas or food went up, we felt it.”He added, “I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously and it’s my top domestic priority.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Fed Confronts Why It May Have Acted Too Slowly on Inflation

    Central bankers have been asking whether they should have reacted faster to rising inflation last year — and are learning from the recent past.Some Federal Reserve officials have begun to acknowledge that they were too slow to respond to rapid inflation last year, a delay that is forcing them to constrain the economy more abruptly now — and one that could hold lessons for the policy path ahead.Inflation began to accelerate last spring, but Fed policymakers and most private-sector forecasters initially thought price gains would quickly fade. It became clear in early fall that fast inflation was proving to be more lasting — but the Fed pivoted toward rapidly removing policy support only in late November and did not raise rates until March.Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down.Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.“It was a complicated situation with little precedent — people make mistakes,” Randal K. Quarles, who was the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in 2021, said at a conference last week.Mr. Quarles, who left the Fed at the end of the year, argued that it should have begun to pull back support aggressively after September. He added, however, that the rate increases that central bankers were now making could still fix the situation.Even so, the delay could come with consequences. By the time the Fed completely stopped buying bonds and began raising rates in March, prices were rising 8.5 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rate since 1981. Consumer price increases are expected to remain rapid when fresh data are released Wednesday.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.And as high prices have lingered, inflation expectations have been creeping up, threatening to change household and business behavior in ways that perpetuate the problem.Because inflation is eating away at paychecks and making it more difficult for families to afford groceries and cars, it has emerged as a major political issue for President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen over concerns about his handling of the economy. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden called inflation his “top domestic priority” and said his administration was taking steps to contain it. He also sought to push back on Republicans, who have spent months blaming him for stoking inflation, saying their policy ideas were “extreme” and would hurt working families.“I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously,” Mr. Biden said, noting that the Fed has the “primary role” in trying to tame price increases.The Fed is now raising rates quickly to wrestle the situation back under control. Officials lifted borrowing costs half a percentage point this month, their biggest increase since 2000, while broadcasting that two more large adjustments could be coming. They are also going to start shrinking their $9 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings next month.If the Fed continues to rapidly adjust policy this year as it tries to catch up, policymakers risk slamming the brakes on a speeding economy. Such hard stops can hurt, pushing up unemployment and possibly tipping off a recession. Officials typically prefer to apply their policy brakes gradually, increasing the chances that the economy can slow down painlessly.Still, several Fed officials pointed out that it was easier to say what the Fed should have done in 2021 after the fact — that in the moment, it was difficult to know price increases would last. Inflation initially came mainly from a few big products that were in short supply amid supply chain snarls, like semiconductors and cars. Only later in the year did it become obvious that price pressures were broadening to food, rent and other areas.“I try to give some grace, and say: In a very uncertain time, with an unprecedented setting, with no real models to guide us, people are going to do the best they can,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in an interview Monday. Mr. Bostic was an early voice suggesting that the Fed should stop buying bonds and think about raising interest rates.Officials have said it was the acceleration in inflation data in September, followed by rising employment costs, that convinced them that price gains might last and that the central bank needed to act decisively. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, pivoted on policy in late November as those data points added up.“It was a complicated situation with little precedent — people make mistakes,” said Randal K. Quarles, who was the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in 2021.Erin Scott/ReutersWhile Mr. Quarles argued that the Fed should have responded as the September data came in, he suggested that there had been a complicating factor: Mr. Powell was waiting to see if he would be reappointed by the Biden administration, which did not announce its decision to renominate him until mid-November.Mr. Quarles, on a “Banking With Interest” podcast episode last week, said reacting to the data was “hard to do until there was clarity as to what the leadership going forward of the Fed was going to be.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More