Interest rates in the spotlight at Jackson Hole symposium

Investors at the event will look for any clues from Fed officials on the future of interest rates, which are currently in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell walks the grounds at the Jackson Hole symposium venue in Wyoming. Bloomberg
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Policymakers at the US Federal Reserve have suggested that the central bank could be nearing peak interest rates, as economists and other participants descend on Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a two-day symposium.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's address on Friday will draw the most attention, but ahead of his remarks, some of his colleagues have made their own arguments on how the central bank should address interest rates moving forward.

Philadelphia Fed president Patrick Harker told CNBC that the Fed has “probably done enough” on tightening policy for now.

“I’m in the camp of, 'Let the restrictive stance work for a while, let’s just let this play out for a while, and that should bring inflation down’,” he said.

Boston Fed president Susan Collins, who is not a voting member this year, told Yahoo Finance that “we may need additional increments”. She added that the central bank would need to hold a restrictive stance for some time, but that she does not know where the peak might be.

The remarks seem to reflect current divisions on the Federal Open Market Committee. Minutes released from their July meeting showed there were some participants who favoured holding rates steady, suggesting pushing rates too far could have a harsher impact on the US economy.

Investors at the two-day symposium will look for any clues from Fed officials on the future of interest rates, which are currently in the range of 5.25 per cent to 5.5 per cent. Projections showed that there is room for one more 25 basis point increase this year, although traders expect rates will hold steady.

The symposium's agenda will be released on Thursday night.

All eyes on Powell

Mr Powell's address on Friday will be closely watched for clues on how he expects the fight against inflation will pan out.

The hawkish Fed chairman last year predicted the road back to 2 per cent inflation would inflict “some pain” on households, including higher borrowing costs and unemployment.

“These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation. But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain,” he said at the time.

Restoring price stability has been a top priority for the Fed chairman, who has rebuffed concerns that it would come at the cost of employment.

But the labour market has been resilient, with a near-historic low unemployment rate and slowed-but-solid job growth. While Mr Powell said the low unemployment rate was a “real blessing”, he noted that historical records suggest joblessness will rise.

“We have to be honest about the historical record, which does suggest that when central banks go in and slow the economy to bring down inflation, the result tends to be some softening in labour market conditions,” he said in July.

“And, you know, we hope that that’s as little as possible, but we have to be honest – that is the likely outcome.”

Mr Powell has most recently said the Fed would take a data-driven approach on a meeting-by-meeting basis, saying pausing interest rates and issuing another increase are both possibilities.

Brics and the global economy

While Mr Powell's address is likely to dominate headlines, developments in the global economy will also be a major focus, with the theme for this year's symposium being “Structural Shifts in the Global Economy”, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City said.

The symposium comes on the heels of the UAE and Saudi Arabia's invitation to the Brics group of nations. Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia and Argentina were also invited to join the bloc, which was formed in 2009.

The Brics block is named after its founding members, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

China and Russia have pushed for the expansion of Brics to counter western powers.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said western-led institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must be reconfigured to reflect today's world.

Mr Guterres has criticised these institutions in the past for primarily benefiting rich countries and leaving other countries in debt.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen – who has said these institutions “reflect American values” – has also pressed for the evolution of the World Bank to tackle climate change, eliminate extreme poverty and build resilience to future global challenges.

Updated: August 24, 2023, 8:17 PM