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    The inflation rate could jump, but there’s a simple reason not to read too much into it.

    When the government releases its latest consumer price inflation reading at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Wall Street investors will be eagerly watching the data point, which is expected to jump starting this month.Inflation data matters because it gives an up-to-date snapshot of how much it costs Americans to buy the goods and services they regularly consume. And because the Federal Reserve is charged in part with keeping increases in prices contained, the data can influence its decisions — and those affect financial markets.But there’s a big reason not to read too much into the expected bounce in March and April — and it lies in so-called base effects.Inflation Is Set to Jump More

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    Fed Chief Says U.S. Economy Is at an ‘Inflection Point’ as Risks Remain

    “It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks,” Jerome Powell said on “60 Minutes.”WASHINGTON — The economy is at an “inflection point” and on the cusp of growing more quickly, the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night. But he warned that the crisis was not yet over.In the interview, with “60 Minutes” on CBS, Mr. Powell said that the American economy “has brightened substantially” as more people are vaccinated and businesses reopen. But he cautioned that “there really are risks out there,” specifically coronavirus flare-ups, if Americans return to normal life too quickly.“The principal risk to our economy right now really is that the disease would spread again more quickly,” he said. “And that’s troubling. It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks.”The Fed has held interest rates near zero since March 2020 and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies meant to stoke spending by keeping borrowing cheap. Fed officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy until it is closer to their goals of maximum employment and stable inflation — and that while the situation is improving, it is not there yet.Mr. Powell reiterated that approach on Sunday, saying that the central bank would “consider raising rates when the labor market recovery is essentially complete, and we’re back to maximum employment, and inflation is back to our 2 percent goal and is on track to move above 2 percent for some time.”But he said it would “be a while until we get to that place.”Discussing inflation, Mr. Powell once again made clear that the Fed wanted to see “sustainable” price increases before it adjusted monetary policy.“Inflation has been below 2 percent,” he said. “We want it to be just moderately above 2 percent. So that’s what we’re looking for.” “And when we get that,” he added, “that’s when we’ll raise interest rates.”Some prominent onlookers have warned that the economy has the potential overheat as the federal government pumps out trillions of dollars in stimulus aid and other spending and as the economy reopens, allowing consumers to spend more money.So far, no sustained inflation spike has materialized.Figures show the economy is recovering, albeit slowly. Employers added more than 900,000 workers to payrolls last month, but the country is still missing millions of jobs compared with February 2020, and just last week state jobless claims climbed.Mr. Powell on Sunday highlighted that while some workers were doing well, others had yet to get back to where they were before Covid-19 lockdowns, a phenomenon that will influence when the Fed reduces or removes policy support.“What you’re seeing is some parts of the economy are doing very well, have fully recovered, have even more than fully recovered in some cases,” Mr. Powell said. “And some parts haven’t recovered very much at all yet. So you do see real disparities between different parts of the economy. It’s sort of unusual for an economy like ours.”Mr. Powell also pointed to data that shows the burden is falling hardest on those least able to bear it: Lower-income service workers, who are heavily people of color and women, have been hit hard by job losses.While he expects those workers to get back to their jobs more quickly as the economy rebounds, the Fed needs to “stick with those people and support them as they try to get back to where they were in life, which was working,” he said, adding, “They were in jobs just a year ago.” More

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    Fear of Inflation Finds a Foothold in the Bond Market

    There is little evidence for a big jump in prices, but some economists and bond investors fear President Biden’s policies could lead to inflation.The so-called bond vigilantes may be back, 30 years after they led a sell-off in Treasury securities over the prospect of higher government spending by a new Democratic administration.The Federal Reserve has downplayed the risk of inflation, and many experts discount the danger of a sustained rise in prices. But there is an intense debate underway on Wall Street about the prospects for higher inflation and rising interest rates.Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. If the trend continues, it will put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which recently won passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.The potential confrontation made some market veterans recall the 1990s, when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.Ed Yardeni, an independent economist, coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs that fiscal deficits are getting out of hand, especially if central bankers and others don’t act as a counterweight.As bond prices fall and yields rise, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can force lawmakers to spend less.“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”Yields on the 10-year Treasury note hit 1.75 percent last week before falling back this week, a sharp rise from less than 1 percent at the start of the year.Not all the sellers necessarily oppose more government spending — some are simply acting on a belief that yields will move higher as economic activity picks up, or jumping on a popular trade. But the effect is the same, pushing yields higher as prices for bonds fall.Yields remain incredibly low by historical standards and even recent trading. Two years ago, the 10-year Treasury paid 2.5 percent — many bond investors would happily welcome a return to those yields given that a government note bought today pays a relative pittance in interest. And during the Clinton administration, yields on 10-year Treasurys rose to 8 percent, from 5.2 percent between October 1993 and November 1994.Still, Mr. Yardeni believes the bond market is saying something policymakers today ought to pay attention to.“The ultimate goal of the bond vigilante is to be heard, and they are blowing the whistle,” he said. “It could come back to bite Biden’s plans.”Yet evidence of inflation remains elusive. Consumer prices, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, have been tame, as have wages. And even before the pandemic, unemployment plumbed lows not seen in decades without stoking inflation.Indeed, the bond vigilantes remain outliers. Even many economists at financial firms who expect faster growth as a result of the stimulus package are not ready to predict inflation’s return.“The inflation dynamic is not the same as it was in the past,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “Globalization, technology and e-commerce all make it harder for firms to increase prices.”What’s more, with more than nine million jobs lost in the past year and an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent, it would seem there is plenty of slack in the economy.That’s how Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and is a former top Fed official, sees it. Even if inflation goes up slightly, Mr. Blinder believes the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate.“Bond traders are an excitable lot, and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”Indeed, there have been rumors of the bond vigilantes’ return before, like in 2009 as the economy began to creep out of the deep hole of the last recession and rates inched higher. But in the ensuing decade, both yields and inflation remained muted. If anything, deflation was a greater concern than rising prices.It is not just bond traders who are concerned. Some of Mr. Blinder’s colleagues from the Clinton administration are warning that the conventional economic wisdom hasn’t fully accepted the possibility of higher rates or an uptick in prices..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.Robert E. Rubin, Mr. Clinton’s second Treasury secretary, echoed that concern but took pains to support the stimulus package.“There is a deep uncertainty,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. “We needed this relief bill, and it served a lot of useful purposes. But we now have an enormous amount of stimulus, and the risks of inflation have increased materially.”Mr. Rubin acknowledged that predicting inflation was very difficult, but he said policymakers ought to be ready to fight it. “If inflationary pressures do take off, it’s important to get ahead of them quickly before they take on a life of their own.”The Federal Reserve has plenty of options. Not only is it buying up debt, which keeps yields down, but the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has called for keeping monetary policy relatively loose for the foreseeable future. If higher prices do materialize, the Fed could halt asset purchases and raise rates sooner.“We’re committed to giving the economy the support that it needs to return as quickly as possible to a state of maximum employment and price stability,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. That help will continue “for as long as it takes.”While most policymakers expect faster growth, falling unemployment and a rise in inflation to above 2 percent, they nonetheless expect short-term rates to stay near zero through 2023.But the Fed’s ability to control longer-term rates is more limited, said Steven Rattner, a veteran Wall Street banker and former New York Times reporter who served in the Obama administration.“At some point, if this economy takes off bigger than any one of us expect, the Fed will have to raise rates, but it’s not this year’s issue and probably not next year’s issue,” he said. “But we are in uncharted waters, and we are to some extent playing with fire.”The concerns about inflation expressed by Mr. Rattner, Mr. Rubin and others has at least a little to do with a generational angst, Mr. Rattner, 68, points out. They all vividly remember the soaring inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s that prompted the Fed to raise rates into the double digits under the leadership of Paul Volcker.The tightening brought inflation under control but caused a deep economic downturn.“People my age remember well the late 1970s and 1980s,” Mr. Rattner said. “I was there, I covered it for The Times, and lived through it. Younger people treat it like it was the Civil War.”Some younger economists, like Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics, who is 36, think these veterans of past inflation scares are indeed fighting old wars. Any rise in inflation above 2 percent is likely to be transitory, Mr. Daco said. Bond yields are up, but they are only returning to normal after the distortions caused by the pandemic.“If you have memories of high inflation and low growth in the 1970s, you may be more concerned with it popping up now,” he said. “But these are very different circumstances today.” More

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    Larry Summers Warned About Inflation. Fed Officials Push Back.

    Mr. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and other economists say $1.9 trillion more in pandemic relief might overdo it. The Federal Reserve’s vice chair and a regional president disagreed.Federal Reserve officials pushed back on Thursday against concerns raised by two prominent economists — Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and Olivier J. Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund — that big government spending could overheat the economy and send inflation rocketing higher.Those warnings have grabbed headlines and spurred debate over the past two months as details of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill came together. Mr. Summers in particular has kept them up since the legislation passed, saying it was too much on the heels of large spending packages last year. He recently called the approach the “least responsible” fiscal policy in 40 years while predicting that it had a one-in-three chance of precipitating higher inflation and maybe stagflation, or a one-in-three chance of causing the Fed to raise rates and pushing the economy toward recession.But two leaders at the Fed, which is tasked with using monetary policies to keep inflation steady and contained, gave little credence to those fears on Thursday. Richard H. Clarida, the central bank’s vice chairman, and Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, both responded to questions specifically about Mr. Summers’s and Mr. Blanchard’s warnings.“They have both correctly pointed out that the U.S. has a lot of fiscal support this year,” Mr. Clarida said on an Institute of International Finance webcast. “Where I would disagree is whether or not that is primarily going to represent a long-term, persistent upward risk to inflation, and I don’t think so.”Mr. Clarida said that there was a lot of room for the economy to recover — some 9.5 million jobs that were lost during the pandemic are still gone — and that the effect of the government’s relief spending would diminish over time. He also said that while spenders had pent-up demand, there was also pent-up supply because the service sector had been shut for a year.“At the Fed, we get paid to be attentive and attuned to inflation risks, and we will be,” Mr. Clarida said. But he noted that forecasters didn’t see “undesirable upward pressure” on inflation over time.Mr. Evans told reporters on a call that he wasn’t sure what “overheating” — the danger that top economists have warned about — actually meant.“First off, there’s a conversation of is this the best way to spend money,” he summarized, adding that he didn’t have anything to say about that. “But then there’s sort of like, ‘Oh, this is so much that it is going to overshoot potential output, and there’s a risk that we’re going to get overheating, and then inflation.’”He continued: “What is the definition of overheating? It’s a great word, it evokes all kinds of images, but it’s kind of like potential output is always a strange concept anyway. Can output be too high?”Mr. Evans has been concerned for years that inflation is too tepid, rather than that it might pick up too much. Superweak price pressures can cause problems by risking price declines — which encourage saving and harm debtors — and by robbing the Fed of room to cut interest rates during times of trouble.“I kind of remember the ’70s, too,” a decade when inflation spiraled up and out of control in America, Mr. Evans said. “This isn’t the ’70s. We’ve had trouble getting inflation up.”Inflation has been weak in the United States, and in advanced economies broadly, the past two decades. To try to keep that from turning into a bigger problem, the Fed has been working to “re-anchor” consumer and market expectations to prevent inflation slipping lower. The central bank announced last year that it would begin to aim for 2 percent annual price gains on average over time, allowing for periods of greater increases.Still, no Fed policymaker wants inflation to suddenly spike, eroding consumer purchasing power. If that happened, the Fed might have to lift interest rates rapidly to slow down the economy, throwing people out of work and possibly causing a recession. That’s what Mr. Summers and Mr. Blanchard are warning about..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.The $1.9 trillion measure that the Biden administration ushered through Congress added to a $900 billion relief package enacted in December and a $2 trillion package last March.Mr. Blanchard, in a March 5 post on Twitter, compared the fresh government spending to a snake swallowing an elephant: “The snake was too ambitious. The elephant will pass, but maybe with some damage.”He more recently said that he had “no clue as to what happens to inflation and rates” but that there is a lot of uncertainty and that things “could go wrong.”Mr. Summers, who led the Treasury Department from 1999 to 2001, wrote in a Feb. 4 Washington Post column that, while it was hugely uncertain, “there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.”He said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week that “we are running enormous risks.”But Fed officials don’t think big government outlays will be enough to rewrite the world’s low-inflation story. And if it does stoke a slightly faster pickup, that might be a welcome development.Mr. Clarida acknowledged that price gains were likely to speed up over the next few months, but said he expected most of that “to be transitory” and for inflation to return to “or perhaps run somewhat above” 2 percent in 2022 and 2023.“This outcome would be entirely consistent with the new framework we adopted in August 2020,” he said. More

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    How 10 Economists Think About the Economy Potentially Overheating

    Some notable participants in the debate over the Biden stimulus tell us, in their words, what a too-hot economy would look like.What would it really mean for the economy to overheat? How would we know if the ominous warnings by several prominent economists were coming true?We asked 10 economists who have offered commentary from either side of the debate to lay out their arguments more precisely. The question we asked: What rate of inflation, using what measure, over what period of time — or other developments, such as swings in bond or currency markets — would indicate problematic overheating was underway?Their answers are below, lightly edited for clarity and length.To explain some terms that appear frequently in these responses: “P.C.E. inflation” is a measure of inflation based on personal consumption expenditures; it is the preferred inflation measure of the Federal Reserve. “Break-evens” refers to the level of future inflation priced into the Treasury bond market, based on the price of inflation-protected securities. The “five-year, five-year” forward rate is the annual inflation priced into bonds for the five-year period starting five years in the future — that is, the period between five and 10 years from now. “Core” inflation, whether using P.C.E. or other measures, excludes volatile food and energy prices.Ángel Franco/The New York TimesOlivier Blanchard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former chief economist of the International Monetary FundI shall plead Knightian uncertainty. I have no clue as to what happens to inflation and rates, because it is in a part of the space we have not been in for a very long time. Uncertainty about multipliers, uncertainty about the Phillips curve, uncertainty about the dovishness of the Fed, uncertainty about how much of the $1.9 trillion package will turn out to be permanent, uncertainty about the size and the financing of the infrastructure plan. All I know is that any of these pieces could go wrong.Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives and former Fed economistWe would have to see the Fed’s preferred gauge of core P.C.E. inflation sustained at a rate above 3 percent for several years and importantly matched by wage growth with measures of inflation expectations rising before I worry about the Fed losing its grip on its stable price mandate. Bond yields would need to be sustained well north of 4 percent in this scenario. It is strange to me that for years economists pined for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy and now we have it and there is a narrative among some that it has to end in disaster. I am more optimistic about the macro outlook than I have been in a long time and am far more focused on how quickly the labor market returns to health than any threat from inflation.Brad DeLong, economist, University of California, BerkeleyThe Federal Reserve’s inflation target has been that inflation should average — not ceiling, but average — 2 percent per year using the P.C.E., 2.5 percent per year using the core C.P.I. Had inflation in fact matched that average since the beginning of the Great Recession, the core C.P.I. would now be 296 on a 1982-84=100 basis. It is actually 270.If the Fed had hit its inflation target, the price level now would be 9.6 percent higher than it is. When the cumulative excess of C.P.I. core inflation over 2.5 percent per year reaches +9.6 percent, come and ask me again whether Federal Reserve policy is excessively inflationary. Until then, we certainly have other much more important economic problems to worry about than the risks of excessive and damaging inflation.Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, former chief economist of the Congressional Budget OfficeI think there is a fair amount of consensus that the economy will grow strongly beginning in the fourth quarter of 2021 and that inflation will rise. I also believe, although there is less consensus here, that the level of economic activity will temporarily rise above its sustainable level for a time and inflation will rise above the Fed’s target. If you want to call that overheating, I think that isn’t in and of itself problematic. In fact, I think making up for some lost economic activity is beneficial. And, the Fed has said it welcomes a rebound in inflation.So where would I be concerned? Is this just a matter of degrees? In isolation, there isn’t a credible prediction of temporary overheating or inflationary pressure that worries me. For example, I think we can increase labor force participation well above its sustainable level for several quarters. Same with capacity utilization. I don’t think anyone will be too surprised to see massive airfare inflation. Instead, I worry if we start to see signs that people, businesses and financial markets are responding to the level of overheating as if it were permanent. On one dimension, that could suggest a harder landing. For example — I would worry about a significant jump in the quit rate.I would worry about a housing construction boom or a commercial real estate boom. I would worry about a significant increase in leverage across the economy. That all suggests pain for people when the economy cools. On another dimension, if financial markets start to view the overheating as being too permanent, we could see inflation expectation rise to worrying levels — well above the Fed’s target. For example, I think we need to keep a close eye on the five-year, five-year forward inflation expectation rate. The Cleveland Fed has a nice roundup of inflation expectation measures.I would worry about the Fed’s credibility if longer-term expectations remained stubbornly above where they were in 2019 by, say, one-half percentage point. Which is to say, the economy has benefited from the Fed being credible about its policy direction. If it’s lost, regaining that credibility would exact a toll. Still, everything I see in terms of underlying economic strength, households’ resources, and the fiscal support in train points to a several-quarter-long surge in the economy. We — policymakers, households, businesses — need to appreciate its temporary nature and adjust accordingly.Austan Goolsbee, economist, University of Chicago Booth School of Business and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic AdvisersThe most obvious indicator is that they predict sustained and rising inflation from an overheated economy. You should see prices rising rapidly, and it’s not called a NAIRU for nothing — it should start accelerating. It should be in wages and prices, and it shouldn’t be temporary. It should be 3, then 4, then 5 percent and so on. Basically they are predicting a 1970s repeat, so just go look at how inflation accelerated in the 1970s.So B, this means more than just what is the inflation rate one year from now. Up and then back down is perfectly consistent with the Yellen/Powell view. If you are impatient to get an idea before having to wait four years, you would expect this to show up in the TIPS implied inflation expectations. Compare the five-year TIPS to the 10-year TIPS, and it will tell you whether they expect a heavy, sustained inflation. Right now the five-year is 2.5 percent, and the 10-year is 2.3 percent, so they don’t expect high inflation and they don’t expect rising, sustained inflation. It’s as simple as that.C, the implicit implication of their view is that the labor market in particular will overheat. For that to happen, we should see a big rise in the labor force participation rate back to recent normal levels, at the least, and the unemployment rate down below the 3.5 percent range it got to under Trump (without inflation).But D, it should count somewhat in their favor if the Fed had to jack up rates so quickly/stiffly that it created a tough recession without a soft landing. That might prevent actual inflation from happening and negate their hypothesis in the technical sense, but they would still be right in spirit even without the actual inflation. Caveat to D, if we have a bubble going on and the bubble pops and that causes a recession, that has nothing to do with their theory and they should not get credit for that. It’s basically just the 2001, 2008 style recession again.Jason Furman, Harvard economist and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic AdvisersUltimately we’re worried about an outcome in the real economy, which is rapid growth in 2021 followed by a significant reversal in 2022 or 2023 with anything like a recession, negative growth or a sizable increase in the unemployment rate. Much of what we call “overheating” is mostly a concern insofar as it triggers that outcome. But some more proximate measures:Inflation in the second half of 2021 or the four quarters of 2022 at an annual rate of 2 to 2.5 percent would be desirable; 2.5 to 3.5 percent would cause more worries than it objectively should, but those worries could create self-fulfilling problems; and above 3.5 percent would create a substantial risk of macroeconomic reactions that create genuine instability and problems in the economy.The 10-year nominal interest rate going above 3 percent in 2021 should give us some pause, and going above 4 percent should raise the possibility of a meaningful course correction for fiscal policy. Finally, not a proximate measure, but a fear (and this is not my central guess), is that overheating could happen without a large decline in the unemployment rate. If, for example, people don’t return quickly to the labor force and it takes a while for the unemployed to find jobs, then you could have overheating even with an unemployment rate of 4.5 or 5 percent. That would be the worst scenario because it would really discourage policy activism for some time to come. Not my main prediction and maybe a risk worth taking, but is the gnawing fear that keeps me up at night.N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard economist and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic AdvisersI would say the economy is overheated if G.D.P. rises above potential G.D.P. (as estimated by, say, C.B.O.), and core inflation (P.C.E. price index excluding food and energy) rises above 3 percent over a 12-month period. (Inflation has not broken that threshold anytime during the past quarter century.)Such an overheating could be temporary. I would say we have an ongoing overheating problem if, in addition, five-year break-even inflation — a gauge of inflation expectations — rises above 3 percent.Claudia Sahm, senior fellow, Jain Family Institute and former Fed economistTo have overheating you need to start getting a spiral. There’s not a magical number. It’s not that if you’ve gone over 5 percent inflation you’re overheating. To me, overheating is inflation starts picking up, and it keeps going. Inflation is a slow-moving dynamic, especially in core. You see it’s up a couple of tenths of a percent, then another couple of tenths, then starting to move up half a percent if things really start to get out of control. When it keeps going and keeps getting worse, you’re overheating.It would speed up. It would have to be persistent. If by the end of next year we were looking at consistent prints of 3 percent, and it had started — we’re at 1.5 now — if it had climbed to 2.6 by the end of the year, then kept going up next year and was heading toward 3 by the end of 2022, with the unemployment rate completely recovered, OK, maybe we’re pushing the economy too hard. It’s time to ease up on the accelerator and tap the brakes.It’s the spiral that matters. It could happen, but it would take a while and not only do we know how to disrupt a wage-price spiral — we know what it looks like.Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard economist and former Treasury secretaryI think there’s a one-third chance that inflation expectations meaningfully above the Fed’s 2 percent target will become entrenched, a one-third chance that the Fed will bring about substantial financial instability or recession in order to contain inflation, and a one-third chance that this will work out as policymakers hope.In the first scenario, we have a Vietnam-like experience where inflation expectations ratchet upwards due to macroeconomic policies, and inflation expectations, broadly defined, become unanchored.In the second scenario, we have an experience like most of the recessions prior to 1990, when expansions were murdered by the Fed with inflation control as the motive. This was the case three times in the 1950s, at the beginning of the 1970s, in 1975, 1980 and 1982. In the past it has proven impossible to generate a soft landing. I can’t think of a time when we have experienced a big downshift without having a recession.In the successful scenario that is the aspiration of policymakers, we would enjoy a period of very rapid growth, followed by a downshift to moderate growth, with inflation expectations remaining anchored in the 2 percent range.Michael Strain, director of economic policy, the American Enterprise InstituteI have a separate view on what would be good for the economy and on what the Fed might be able to tolerate.Trend inflation (measured by some sort of a moving average, let’s say — but that does not include March and April due to base effects) of 2.5-3 percent would be a policy victory. By “inflation” I mean the year-over-year change in the monthly core P.C.E. Aberrant, transitory months spikes are nothing to worry about from an economic perspective. But if that average starts to creep above 3 percent, then I would start to worry, regardless of the behavior of market-based inflation expectations.If market-based inflation expectations on the five-year break-even go above 3 percent and expectations using five-year, five-year forward go above 2.5 percent, then I would start to worry, regardless of the behavior of actual price inflation, as measured in the previous paragraph.My big concern is that the Fed won’t be able to hold firm in the environment I characterize in my first paragraph, especially if you add evidence of financial market bubbles into the mix. So in that sense, I am more worried about a policy mistake than I am worried about a de-anchoring of expectations. More

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    If the Economy Overheats, How Will We Know?

    We asked some prominent participants in the Great Overheating Debate of 2021 to explain what inflationary trends they’re afraid of (or not, as the case may be).“It is strange to me that for years economists pined for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy, and now we have it and there is a narrative among some that it has to end in disaster,” one economist said.Olivier Douliery/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSome big-name economists argue that the economy will soon overheat because of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief and other spending measures.They worry that the economy is being flooded with too much money, a fear only heightened by news that the administration will seek $3 trillion more to build infrastructure, cut carbon emissions and reduce inequality.But in this debate, what overheating would mean — exactly how much inflation, with what kinds of side effects for the economy — has often been vague. So The New York Times asked some prominent participants in the Great Overheating Debate of 2021 to lay out in more detail what they are afraid of, and how we will know if their fears have been realized. See their full answers here.It turns out that the two sides — the overheating worriers and those who think those concerns are misplaced — agree on many points. They have common ground on what a bad outcome might look like, and agree that it will take some time to know whether a problematic form of inflation is really taking root. The differences are in how likely they consider it to happen.The core dispute, one with big consequences for the future of the economy and for the Biden administration, is over the nature of the inflation that is to come.As the economy reopens and Americans spend their stimulus checks and the money they saved during the pandemic, demand for certain goods and services will outstrip supply, driving up prices. That is now pretty much an inevitability.The Biden administration and its allies are betting this will be a one-time event: that prices will recalibrate, industries will adjust and unemployment will fall. By next year they expect a booming economy with inflation back at low, stable levels.The overheating worriers, who include prominent Clinton-era policymakers and many conservatives, believe there is a more substantial chance that one of two more pessimistic scenarios will come true. As vast federal spending keeps coursing through the economy, they fear that high inflation will come to be seen as the new normal and that behavior will adjust accordingly.If people believe we are entering a more inflationary era — after more than a decade when inflation has been persistently low — they could alter their behavior in self-fulfilling ways. Businesses would be quicker to raise prices and workers to demand raises. The purchasing power of a dollar would fall, and the bond investors who lend to the government would demand higher interest rates, making financing the budget deficit trickier.“I don’t think anyone will be too surprised to see massive airfare inflation” in the short term, for example, as the economy reopens, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. “Instead, I worry if we start to see signs that people, businesses and financial markets are responding to the level of overheating as if it were permanent.”That situation would leave policymakers, especially at the Federal Reserve, faced with two bad choices: Allow inflation to take off in an upward spiral, or stop it by raising interest rates and quite possibly causing a recession.“Ultimately we’re worried about an outcome in the real economy, which is rapid growth in 2021 followed by a significant reversal in 2022 or 2023 with anything like a recession, negative growth or a sizable increase in the unemployment rate,” said Jason Furman, a former Obama administration economic adviser. “Much of what we call ‘overheating’ is mostly a concern insofar as it triggers that outcome.”Mr. Furman says annual inflation rates of 3.5 percent or higher in late 2021 or 2022 would “create a substantial risk of macroeconomic reactions that create genuine instability and problems in the economy,” and that even a notch lower than that, 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, could create some problems.Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, by contrast, argues that it would take several years of inflation at 3 percent or higher — not just a bump in 2021 or 2022 — before she would worry that inflation expectations could become unmoored, leading to either an inflation-tamping recession or a 1970s-style vicious cycle of ever-higher prices.“It is strange to me that for years economists pined for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy, and now we have it and there is a narrative among some that it has to end in disaster,” Ms. Coronado said. “I am more optimistic about the macro outlook than I have been in a long time and am far more focused on how quickly the labor market returns to health than any threat from inflation.”As economists view it, inflation — at least the kind worth worrying about — isn’t a one-time event so much as a process.When demand for goods and services expands faster than the supply of them, consumers simply bid up the price of finite goods, and businesses bid up wages to try to keep up. This begins a cycle of higher wages fueling higher prices, which in turn fuels higher wages.Such a process began in the mid-1960s and culminated in double-digit inflation in the 1970s. But there are important differences between then and now. For one thing, unions then were more powerful and demanded steep wage increases. For another, a series of one-off events made inflation worse, including the breakdown of the Bretton Woods international currency arrangements and oil embargoes that sent fuel prices soaring.Those were also years when the Fed responded inadequately to rising inflation pressures — it was a series of errors the central bank made, not just one. That experience would suggest that the Fed, having learned the lessons of that era, could nip any new inflationary outburst in the bud..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.Larry Summers, Treasury secretary to President Clinton and a top adviser to President Obama, kicked off the overheating debate with an op-ed in The Washington Post. He says an effort by the Fed to rein in overheating would be unlikely to be painless.“We have an experience like most of the recessions prior to 1990, when expansions were murdered by the Fed with inflation control as the motive,” he said, adding: “In the past it has proven impossible to generate a soft landing. I can’t think of a time when we have experienced a big downshift without having a recession.”He now assigns roughly equal odds to three possibilities: that everything goes according to plan, with inflation returning to normal after a one-time surge; that a cycle of ever-rising inflation develops; or that the Fed ultimately causes a steep downturn to prevent that inflationary cycle.So given that the real risk is not so much inflation in 2021, but what happens beyond the immediate future, how would we know it?Greg Mankiw, a Harvard economist who has warned of overheating, said there would be an “ongoing overheating problem” only if consumer prices were rising by more than 3 percent a year and bond prices were to shift in ways that suggested investors expected 3 percent or higher annual inflation for the next five years.Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute also emphasized these inflation “break-evens,” which capture bond investors’ views of future inflation based on the gap between inflation-protected and regular securities. Like Mr. Mankiw, he said that break-evens suggesting 3 percent or higher annual inflation over the next five years would be worrying, as would 2.5 percent or higher inflation expected for the period five to 10 years from now.Another place to look for evidence of overheating will be whether inflation merely rises or keeps accelerating.If the overheating warnings are correct, “it should start accelerating,” said Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago who has been sharply critical of the overheating thesis. “It should be 3, then 4, then 5 percent and so on. Basically they are predicting a 1970s repeat, so just go look at how inflation accelerated in the 1970s.”How will Americans interpret price rises during the post-pandemic boom? Might it jolt them out of the low-inflation psychology that has prevailed for nearly four decades, making businesses more confident about raising prices and workers faster to demand raises?The answer will determine whether the years ahead represent a pleasant warming trend or a red-hot caldron that leaves everybody burned. More

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    Powell Downplays Inflation Risks as Yellen Foreshadows Future Spending

    The nation’s two most powerful economic policy officials testified together for the first time, reviewing the state of the economic recovery.The economy is healing, the nation’s top two economic officials told lawmakers on Tuesday, but workers and businesses will need continued government support to rebound from the pandemic — and one of the officials, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, batted back concerns that vigorous policy help could stoke inflation.Mr. Powell testified Tuesday before the House Financial Services committee alongside Janet L. Yellen, his predecessor at the Fed and now the Treasury secretary, in their first side-by-side appearance in their current roles. In hopes of fueling a rapid rebound in spending and hiring, the government has been spending aggressively and the Fed is keeping borrowing costs at rock bottom.That all-in approach has helped to avert the most dire potential economic outcomes, Mr. Powell told lawmakers, and it has not created grave inflation risks in the process.Asked whether President Biden’s recently passed $1.9 trillion spending package to combat the virus could cause prices to shoot higher — especially as the administration eyes plans to spend as much as $3 trillion more on an infrastructure package — Mr. Powell said the Fed did not fear a jump in inflation.“We do expect that inflation will move up over the course of this year,” he said, adding that some of the rise would be procedural as low readings from March and April of last year dropped out of the data, and part of it might be driven by a recovery in demand.“Our best view is that the effect on inflation will be neither particularly large nor persistent,” he said. And if it does pick up in a more concerning way, “we have the tools to deal with that,” he added.Ms. Yellen faced questions about President Biden’s economic relief legislation, including Treasury’s role in putting it into action, as well as the administration’s plans to propose another big spending package on infrastructure, which could be financed in part by tax increases.She was pressed by Republican lawmakers about how higher taxes would affect consumers and small businesses. “I think a package that consists of investments in people, investments in infrastructure, will help to create good jobs in the American economy,” Ms. Yellen replied, “and changes in the tax structure will help to pay for those programs.”And she argued that tax increases would be necessary to back up the package.“We do need to raise revenues in a fair way to support the spending that this economy needs to be competitive and productive,” she said.Ms. Yellen’s Treasury is in charge of executing Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief legislation, and has been racing to distribute $1,400 checks to millions of Americans. That is posing a test for Ms. Yellen’s team, which is not yet fully in place.Ms. Yellen pushed hard for a robust fiscal relief package. In her opening statement, she described the rescue legislation as precisely what the economy needed.“With the passage of the rescue plan, I am confident that people will reach the other side of this pandemic with the foundations of their lives intact,” Ms. Yellen said. “And I believe they will be met there by a growing economy. In fact, I think we may see a return to full employment next year.”Mr. Powell declined to weigh in on the new infrastructure idea, but he did say that the government’s broad response to the coronavirus pandemic had helped to keep a worst-case economic disaster from playing out..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.“While the economic fallout has been real and widespread, the worst was avoided by swift and vigorous action,” he said.Mr. Powell and Ms. Yellen faced a volley of questions on how financial regulators should deal with climate change risks. Republicans have expressed concern that the Fed’s growing attention to climate-related issues in its role as a bank overseer could end up making it harder or more expensive for carbon-heavy companies to get loans.“It’s really very early days in trying to understand what all of this means,” Mr. Powell said, noting that many large banks and large industrial companies were already thinking about and beginning to disclose how climate might affect them over time. “We have a job,” he said, “which is to ensure that the institutions we regulate are resilient to the risks that they’re running.”Separately on Tuesday, Lael Brainard, an influential Fed governor, announced that the Fed was establishing a Financial Stability Climate Committee “to identify, assess and address” climate-related risks to financial stability.The new body will approach its task in a way that “considers the potential for complex interactions across the financial system,” Ms. Brainard said, rather than just the risks to individual companies.That’s the kind of oversight some lawmakers fear.“Linking hypothetical climate scenarios to risks to the entire financial system seems to me highly speculative,” Representative Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky, told Mr. Powell and Ms. Yellen during the Tuesday hearing. 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    Fed Projects Patience Even as Economic Outlook Brightens

    The Federal Reserve’s economic estimates show rates at near zero for years, along with faster growth and higher inflation.The Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome H. Powell, said on Wednesday that he expects the economy to continue improving this year but plans to keep interest rates near zero until employment increases.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesFederal Reserve officials signaled on Wednesday that they are in no rush to dial back support for a pandemic-damaged economy, releasing a fresh set of projections that showed the central bank’s policy interest rate on hold at near zero for years to come — even as the outlook rapidly improves.After a painful 2020 in which the Fed pledged to do whatever it took to prevent lasting virus-inflicted economic damage, the decision underscored that the policy response has moved into a new stage: As long as it takes.Fed officials, who cut their policy rate to near zero last March, maintained that setting on Wednesday, as was widely expected. Keeping it at rock bottom lowers borrowing costs across the economy, fueling demand and stoking growth.But their new forecasts sent a remarkably patient message about the path ahead. Most policymakers expected interest rates to remain near zero through 2023, even as they penciled in faster growth, rapidly falling unemployment and inflation rising above 2 percent.By promising continued help in the face of a brightening outlook, the central bank underlined its key priorities, which center on coaxing the job market back to full health while nudging prices — which have been sluggish for years — sustainably higher. And it made clear that it is more concerned with standing by the fledgling rebound than with warnings that inflation could get out of control.“We’re committed to giving the economy the support that it needs to return as quickly as possible to a state of maximum employment and price stability,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during a news conference on Wednesday. That help will continue “for as long as it takes.”Fed officials noted in their postmeeting statement that some parts of the economy were improving, and Mr. Powell said Covid-19 vaccines and fiscal stimulus had driven his colleagues’ sunnier economic expectations. But he also pointed out that the unemployment rate remained elevated, and that 9.5 million jobs that had disappeared during the pandemic were still missing from the economy.“It’s just a lot of people who need to get back to work, and it’s not going to happen overnight, — it’s going to take some time,” Mr. Powell said. “The faster, the better. We’d love to see it come sooner rather than later.”Fed officials now think that unemployment will fall to 4.5 percent this year as growth surges, a quicker decline than previously anticipated, and that inflation will pop to 2.4 percent in 2021 before easing. They see it hovering around 2.1 percent by the end of 2023.That they are willing to allow inflation to move higher without reacting backs up the central bank’s new approach to monetary policy. The Fed said last year that it would stop raising rates pre-emptively to choke off coming inflation and would aim for 2 percent as an average goal — meaning it welcomes periods of slightly faster price gains.“You look at their economic forecasts, they are all better,” said Priya Misra, head of global rates strategy at TD Securities. “They’re telling the market that they will let inflation go above 2 percent.”Wednesday’s release of economic projections was closely watched on Wall Street, in part because the central bank had a lot of new information to digest and incorporate into its policy guidance.Since the Fed last updated its economic projections three months ago, Congress and the White House have passed two large spending packages — a $900 billion bill in December and a $1.9 trillion measure this month. That huge infusion of government cash will put money in consumer bank accounts and could help to avert economic damage that Fed officials had worried about, like bankruptcies and evictions.The Treasury Department said on Wednesday that 90 million direct checks to individuals, totaling more than $242 billion, had already been disbursed.Americans are also receiving vaccinations at a steady pace, spurring hope that the pandemic might abate enough to allow hard-hit service industry companies to reopen more fully at some point this year.To add to those positive developments, coronavirus cases have eased, and the unemployment rate suggests that the economy continues to slowly heal. Joblessness fell to 6.2 percent in February, the latest Labor Department data showed, down from a peak of 14.8 percent in April.But there is a long way to go — a broader measure of joblessness that Fed officials often cite is around 9.5 percent — and Mr. Powell pointed out repeatedly that uncertainty remained high.“The path of the virus continues to be very important,” he said, noting that new and virulent strains have emerged. “We’re not done, and I’d hate to see us take our eye off the ball before we actually finish the job.”Congress has tasked the Fed with guiding the economy back to full employment and stable prices. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have been clear that they want to see both a healthy job market and inflation that has risen slightly above 2 percent, and is expected to stay there for some time, before lifting interest rates.The March economic projections showed that officials widely expect the economy to take years to clear those hurdles. Just seven officials penciled in rate increases by the end of 2023, while 11 saw rates remaining on hold.The Fed is also buying $120 billion in bonds per month. It has been less clear about the criteria for slowing those purchases, saying it needs to see “substantial” further progress.Mr. Powell indicated on Wednesday that the Fed was not ready to even start talking about when it might reduce that support. When it is, he said, it will signal so “well in advance of any decision to actually taper.”Markets have been on edge in recent weeks. An improving economic outlook and the prospect of slightly higher inflation have pushed up rates on longer-term Treasury securities. That has at times caused stocks to swoon — share prices tend to fall as interest rates increase — though key indexes remain near record highs.Some of that unease ties directly to Mr. Powell’s central bank. Investors have come to expect that the Fed will be less patient than they previously anticipated against the brightening backdrop, pulling forward estimates of when the Fed might lift interest rates.In fact, some prominent economists and commentators have warned that the government’s big spending, which dwarfs the response to the 2008 crisis, risks pushing prices much higher by pumping so many dollars into an already-healing economy. That could force the Fed to lift rates sharply to control them.But Fed has consistently downplayed those concerns, pointing out that the problem of the modern era has been weak prices — which could risk destabilizing outright price declines, and which saps the Fed’s ability to cut inflation-inclusive interest rates in times of trouble. If prices do take off, officials often say, they have the tools to deal with that.“They want a rapid recovery, even more than usual,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “The Fed doesn’t want to get in the way of it because of a transitory jump in inflation.” More