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    Lael Brainard, Nominee for Fed Vice Chair, Calls Inflation ‘Too High’

    Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor whom President Biden has nominated to be the central bank’s new vice chair, plans to tell lawmakers that the central bank will use its policies to wrestle inflation under control when she testifies at her confirmation hearing.Ms. Brainard, who will face vetting before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. on Thursday, is likely to garner considerable support among Democrats and may pick up some Republican votes, though how many are unclear at this point.Her nomination — and her new role at the Fed if the Senate confirms her — comes at a challenging economic moment. While unemployment is falling rapidly, inflation has taken off, with a report on Wednesday showing that a key price index rose in December at the fastest pace since 1982.“We are seeing the strongest rebound in growth and decline in unemployment of any recovery in the past five decades,” Ms. Brainard will say, according to her prepared remarks. “But inflation is too high, and working people around the country are concerned about how far their paychecks will go.”Ms. Brainard will also tell lawmakers that the Fed’s policies are “focused on getting inflation back down to 2 percent while sustaining a recovery that includes everyone,” calling that the central bank’s “most important task.”After nearly two years of propping up a virus-stricken economy by keeping interest rates at rock bottom and buying government-backed debt, Fed officials began to slow their large bond purchases late last year. That program is on track to end in March. Officials have signaled in recent weeks that they also expect to lift interest rates to make borrowing more expensive, slowing demand and helping to cool the economy.Markets increasingly expect four rate increases in 2022, which would put the Fed’s short-term policy interest rate just above 1 percent.“Today the economy is making welcome progress, but the pandemic continues to pose challenges,” Ms. Brainard will say. “Our priority is to protect the gains we have made and support a full recovery.”Ms. Brainard has been at the Fed since 2014, spanning the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. Before that, she was a top international official at the Treasury Department. An economist and a Democrat, she had been seen as a potential contender to be Treasury secretary or Fed chair during the Biden administration.She has a good working relationship with Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, whom Mr. Biden has renominated for a second term. She will use her prepared statement to emphasize that she has worked for many administrations in Washington — Democrats and Republicans alike — while pledging to take the Fed’s mission to fight inflation and its independence from partisan wrangling seriously.“I will bring a considered and independent voice to our deliberations,” she will say. More

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    CPI Report Is Expected to Show Inflation Popped Again

    Inflation closed out 2021 on a high note, bad news for the Biden White House and for economic policymakers, as rapid price gains erode consumer confidence and cast a shadow of uncertainty over the economy’s future.The Consumer Price Index most likely climbed 7 percent in the year through December, and 5.4 percent after volatile prices such as food and fuel are stripped out, economists in a Bloomberg survey estimated. The last time the main inflation index eclipsed 7 percent was 1982.What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.Inflation, Explained: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? We answered some common questions.The Fed’s Pivot: Jerome Powell’s abrupt change of course moved the central bank into inflation-fighting mode.Fastest Inflation in Decades: The Consumer Price Index rose 6.8 percent in November from a year earlier, its sharpest increase since 1982.Why Washington Is Worried: Policymakers are acknowledging that price increases have been proving more persistent than expected.The Psychology of Inflation: Americans are flush with cash and jobs, but they also think the economy is awful.Policymakers have spent months waiting for inflation to fade, hoping that supply chains would catch up with booming consumer demand. Instead, continued waves of coronavirus infections have locked down factories, and shipping routes have struggled to work through extended backlogs as consumers continue to buy goods from overseas at a rapid clip. What happens next may be the biggest economic policy question of 2022.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    Jerome Powell Will Acknowledge Inflation’s Toll in Senate Testimony

    Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair whom President Biden has nominated for a second four-year term, is set to tell senators on Tuesday that central bankers will use their economic tools to keep inflation — which has been high — from becoming entrenched.Mr. Powell, who is scheduled to testify before the Senate Banking Committee as he seeks confirmation, faces reappointment at an anxious economic moment. Inflation is running at the fastest pace in nearly 40 years. While economists have hoped for months that it would soon fade, that has yet to happen. Higher prices are chipping away at household incomes, even as wages rise and as companies hire at a solid clip.“We know that high inflation exacts a toll, particularly for those less able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing and transportation,” Mr. Powell will tell lawmakers, according to his prepared remarks. “We are strongly committed to achieving our statutory goals of maximum employment and price stability.”Mr. Powell and his colleagues in recent months have reoriented their policies to pull back on support for the economy in light of the inflationary burst. They are slowing a large bond-buying program they had been using to keep longer-term borrowing cheap and to stoke the economy, and they could raise interest rates as soon as March.“Monetary policy must take a broad and forward-looking view, keeping pace with an ever-evolving economy,” Mr. Powell will tell senators.Economists increasingly expect Fed officials to make three or even four increases this year and eventually to shrink the size of their bond holdings, policies that together will make borrowing more expensive for households and businesses, take juice out of the stock market and slow overall growth.The pivot — which squarely puts the Fed in inflation-fighting mode — could assuage some lawmakers who are worried that the central bank is going to allow inflation to jump out of control. Even so, some may worry what has taken monetary policymakers so long.Others may ask whether the central bank risks overdoing it. Removing support for the economy could slow the job market and curtail hiring while virus concerns and child care issues are keeping many former workers on the labor market’s sidelines.Mr. Powell most likely will also need to address a trading scandal that has rocked the Fed in recent months. Several prominent central bankers traded financial assets for their own portfolios in early 2020, when the Fed was very active in rescuing markets.One, Richard H. Clarida, the vice chair, recently corrected his financial disclosures in a way that made his hot-button transaction — a move into stocks that took place on the eve of a big Fed announcement — look less like the rebalancing that the Fed originally said it had been and more like a response to market conditions.Mr. Clarida announced on Monday that he would resign earlier than planned from the Fed.Mr. Powell did not address that development directly in the prepared remarks, but he pledged to be fair and independent in policy choices.“I am committed to making those decisions with objectivity, integrity and impartiality, based on the best available evidence and in the longstanding tradition of monetary policy independence,” he will say. More

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    Senator Elizabeth Warren Presses Fed for More Information on Officials' Trades

    Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, pressed the central bank to provide more information by next Monday.Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked the Federal Reserve in a letter sent Monday to release more information about a series of financial trades that several top officials made in 2020, when the Fed was actively propping up markets.The Fed has become embroiled in a scandal over the transactions, which occurred in the months around its no-holds-barred market rescue at the outset of the pandemic, raising the possibility that policymakers could have financially benefited from the information they held and the decisions they were making. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, has acknowledged that the trades were a problem and acted quickly to overhaul the central bank’s ethics rules.But that has not stemmed the fallout. Mr. Powell, who was nominated for a second term as chair by President Biden, will almost surely face questions about the Fed’s ethics dilemma at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee. Ms. Warren, who sits on that committee, is pushing for more details about Fed trading activity and new ethics rules, according to the new letter, which she sent to Mr. Powell. Ms. Warren, who previously requested that the Fed turn over information and documents surrounding the trades, is asking the Fed to “release all available information about the trades” by next Monday.Ms. Warren said in her letter that the central bank had failed to fully respond to her previous requests for information.Ms. Warren, who has criticized Mr. Powell’s tenure as chair, has said she will not support his renomination.Scrutiny of the 2020 trades has intensified after The New York Times reported last week that Richard H. Clarida, the Fed’s vice chair, failed to initially disclose the full extent of his trading in his original financial disclosure. Mr. Clarida amended his disclosures in late December, and the document showed that he had moved out of a stock fund as the markets were plunging during the pandemic. Three days later, he moved back into the same fund, just before Mr. Powell announced that the central bank stood ready to rescue markets.Ethics experts said the new information called into question the central bank’s original explanation that Mr. Clarida’s transaction was a preplanned rebalancing away from bonds and toward stocks, and said more information was needed to understand the trades.The new information “raises suspicions that the Fed may be failing to disclose the full scope of the scandal to the public,” Ms. Warren wrote. “I therefore ask that you respond in full to my request by January 17, 2022.”Mr. Clarida updated his disclosures after noticing “inadvertent errors,” a Fed representative said last week, and the Fed’s ethics officer said the newly noted trades were “in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest.” Still, they have drawn scrutiny because the rapid move out of and back into a stock fund at a time of market tumult looked less like a rebalancing toward stocks and more like a possible response to market conditions.“This revelation is just the latest evidence of a deep-rooted ethics failure at the Fed and the urgent need for a comprehensive information release about officials’ trading activity,” Ms. Warren wrote. More

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    A Fed Official’s 2020 Trade Drew Outcry. It Went Further Than First Disclosed.

    Corrected disclosures show that Vice Chair Richard H. Clarida sold a stock fund, then swiftly repurchased it before a big Fed announcement.Richard H. Clarida, the departing vice chair of the Federal Reserve, failed to initially disclose the extent of a financial transaction he made in early 2020 as the Fed was preparing to swoop in and rescue markets amid the unfolding pandemic.Mr. Clarida previously came under fire for buying shares on Feb. 27 in an investment fund that holds stocks — one day before the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, announced that the central bank stood ready to help the economy as the pandemic set in. The transaction drew an outcry from lawmakers and watchdog groups because it put Mr. Clarida in a position to benefit as the Fed restored market confidence.Mr. Clarida’s recently amended financial disclosure showed that the vice chair sold that same stock fund on Feb. 24, at a moment when financial markets were plunging amid fears of the virus.The Fed initially described the Feb. 27 transaction as a previously planned move by Mr. Clarida away from bonds and into stocks, the type of “rebalancing” investors often do when they want to take on more risk and earn higher returns over time. But the rapid move out of stocks and then back in makes it look less like a planned, long-term financial maneuver and more like a response to market conditions.“It undermines the claim that this was portfolio rebalancing,” said Peter Conti-Brown, a Fed historian at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is deeply problematic.”The Fed did not provide further explanation of Mr. Clarida’s trade when asked why he had sold and bought in quick succession. Asked if the Fed stood by previous indications that the move was a rebalancing, a spokesperson did not comment.The correction to the disclosures was released late last month and came after Mr. Clarida noticed “inadvertent errors” in his initial filings, a Fed spokesperson said, noting that the holdings were in broad funds (as opposed to investing in individual stocks). Mr. Clarida did not comment for this article.The extent of Mr. Clarida’s transaction is the latest development in a monthslong trading scandal that has embroiled top Fed officials and prompted high-profile departures at the usually staid central bank.Financial disclosures released in late 2021 showed that Robert S. Kaplan, the former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas president, had made big individual-stock trades, while Eric S. Rosengren, the Boston Fed president, had traded in real estate securities. Those moves drew immediate and intense backlash from lawmakers, ethics experts and former Fed employees alike.That’s because Fed officials were actively rescuing a broad swath of markets in 2020: In March and April, they slashed rates to zero, bought mortgage-tied and government bonds in mass quantities, and rolled out rescue programs for corporate and municipal debt. Continuing to trade in affected securities for their own portfolios throughout the year could have given them room to profit from their privileged knowledge. At a minimum, it created an appearance problem, one that Mr. Powell himself has acknowledged.Mr. Kaplan resigned in September, citing the scandal; Mr. Rosengren resigned simultaneously, citing health issues. Mr. Clarida’s term ends at the close of this month, which it was scheduled to do before news of the scandal broke.Mr. Clarida’s trades, which Bloomberg reported earlier, also raised eyebrows among lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has demanded a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Fed officials’ 2020 trading. But many ethics experts had seen the transaction as more benign, if poorly timed, because it happened in a broad-based index and the Fed had said it was part of a planned and longer-term investment strategy.The new disclosure casts doubt on that explanation, given that Mr. Clarida sold out of stocks just days before moving back into them.“It’s peculiar,” said Norman Eisen, an ethics official in the Obama White House who said he probably would not have approved such a trade. “It’s fair to ask — in what respect does this constitute a rebalancing?”It is unclear whether Mr. Clarida benefited financially from the trade, but it was most likely a lucrative move. By selling the stock fund as its value began to plummet and buying it back days later when the price per share was lower, Mr. Clarida would have ended up holding more shares, assuming he reinvested all of the money that he had withdrawn. The financial disclosures put both transactions in a range of $1 million to $5 million.The sale-and-purchase move would have made money within a few days, as stock markets and the fund in question increased in value after Mr. Powell’s announcement. The investment would have then lost money as stocks sank again amid the deepening pandemic crisis.But the fund’s value recovered after the Fed’s extensive interventions in markets. Assuming they were held, the holdings would ultimately have appreciated in value and turned a bigger profit than they would have had Mr. Clarida merely held the original investment without selling or buying.The Fed was aware of the reputational risk around trading as the pandemic kicked into high gear — the Board of Governors’ ethics office sent an email in late March 2020 encouraging officials to hold off on personal trades — but notable transactions happened in late February and again as early as May in spite of that, its officials’ disclosures suggest.Mr. Powell has acknowledged the optics and ethics problem the trading created, saying that “no one is happy” to “have these questions raised.” He and his colleagues moved quickly to overhaul the Fed’s trading-related rules after the revelations, releasing new and stricter ethics standards that will force officials to trade less rapidly while banning many types of investment.The individuals in question also faced censure. They are under independent investigation to see if their transactions were legal and consistent with internal central bank rules. The S.E.C. declined to comment on whether it has opened or will open an investigation into Mr. Clarida’s trades and his colleagues’, as Ms. Warren had requested.While the officials who came under the most scrutiny for their trades have left or will leave soon, the new disclosure could cause problems for the Fed’s remaining leaders — including Mr. Powell, whom President Biden recently renominated to a second term as chair.Mr. Powell will appear before the Senate Banking Committee next week for his confirmation hearing, as will Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, whom Mr. Biden nominated to replace Mr. Clarida as vice chair.Both could face sticky questions about why a Fed culture permissive of trading at activist moments was, until recently, allowed to prevail. Mr. Powell led the organization, while Ms. Brainard headed the committee in charge of reserve bank oversight.Jerome H. Powell and his colleagues moved quickly to overhaul the Fed’s trading-related rules after the revelations.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesThe trading scandal has also resurfaced longstanding concerns about whether the Fed is too cozy with Wall Street, and whether its officials are working for the public or to profit from their own actions.If he is asked about the scandal, Mr. Powell is likely to point to the tougher ethics guidelines that the Fed unveiled in October. Mr. Clarida’s apparently rapid transaction would most likely have been trickier under the new rules, which require officials to give 45 days’ notice before buying an asset, and which prevent trading during tumultuous market periods.The updated disclosures do show that Mr. Clarida was “in compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest,” based on the Fed ethics officer’s assessment. But that alone is unlikely to prevent scrutiny.Regardless of legality, “the public would be concerned if it turned out that he bought shares of the fund before a major announcement by the Federal Reserve potentially affecting the value of his shares,” Walter Shaub, a former government ethics official now at the Project on Government Oversight, said in an email.Mr. Shaub said more information was needed to know if the trade was problematic, including whether Mr. Clarida knew the Feb. 28 announcement was coming — and when he knew that.The Fed previously told Bloomberg that Mr. Clarida was not yet involved in deliberations about the coronavirus response at the time of the trade.But Mr. Clarida was in close touch with his colleagues throughout that week. He had a call with a board member and a regional Fed president on Feb. 26, his calendars show. That is the way the Fed typically lists meetings of the Fed chair, vice chair and New York Fed president — the Fed’s so-called troika, which sets the agenda for central bank policy — on its largely anonymized official calendars.Mr. Conti-Brown said that regardless of how much Mr. Clarida knew about his colleagues’ plans, the February trades were an issue that the Fed needed to explain in detail.“Richard Clarida is a decision maker,” he said. “The deliberations that happen within his brain are what matter here.” More

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    PCE Index Probably Popped Again in November

    Federal Reserve policymakers are likely to finish a year that has been colored by surprisingly high inflation with yet more bad news: Their preferred price measure could touch its highest level since 1982 when the latest reading is published on Thursday morning.The Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, which is the indicator that the Fed officially targets when it aims for 2 percent annual inflation on average over time, is expected to have climbed by 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier, economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate. That would be the fastest pace of increase in nearly 40 years.Part of the jump will be caused by gasoline prices, which were up sharply in November, and have moderated this month. But a so-called “core” index that excludes food and fuel prices is also expected to increase sharply, to 4.5 percent.Rapidly rising prices are lasting longer than policymakers had hoped, and they have become broader in recent months. Earlier this year, big price increases were largely limited to goods that were in short supply as demand surged and as overtaxed shipping lines struggled to keep up. More recently, they have spread into categories like rent — which can be more long-lasting.Fed officials are tasked with keeping inflation moderate and helping the country achieve full employment, and they have grown increasingly worried about the surge in prices. This month they pivoted on policy, speeding up plans to cut back on economic support and preparing to raise interest rates early next year if that proves necessary. Higher interest rates can weaken demand for everything from homes to cars, helping to slow down the economy and restrain inflation.What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.Inflation, Explained: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? We answered some common questions.The Fed’s Pivot: Jerome Powell’s abrupt change of course moved the central bank into inflation-fighting mode.Fastest Inflation in Decades: The Consumer Price Index rose 6.8 percent in November from a year earlier, its sharpest increase since 1982.Why Washington Is Worried: Policymakers are acknowledging that price increases have been proving more persistent than expected.The Psychology of Inflation: Americans are flush with cash and jobs, but they also think the economy is awful.The big question for officials at the central bank — and in the Biden administration — is what will come next. With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus surging around the world, it is unlikely that tangled supply chains will get back to normal quickly. At the same time, rising housing costs could keep inflation high even as some of the most painful trends of 2021, including a surge in used-car prices tied to a computer chip shortage, moderate.Fed officials do expect inflation to ease to 2.6 percent by the end of next year, their most recent economic forecasts showed, but that would remain substantially above their 2 percent goal. None of the Fed’s 18 top officials expect inflation to drop below 2 percent next year. High inflation also is sapping consumer confidence as people face down rising costs, even at a time when job openings far exceed available workers and wages are rising.“It’s a devastating thing for people who are working class and middle-class,” President Biden said at the White House on Tuesday, adding: “It really hurts.”The administration is trying to pull what levers it can — increasing the supply of oil and gas and trying to keep ports open longer in an effort to clear shipping backlogs.But costs also are increasing because households have saved a lot after repeated government stimulus checks and months locked at home. People are spending voraciously, giving companies the power to raise prices without losing customers.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More