Yellen swan song reveals confidence in North American economic future: Don Pittis
No recession and more jobs ahead, but Canadians should watch out for significantly higher interest rates
Her final press conference as Federal Reserve Chair could have been an opportunity for Janet Yellen to slam the policies of President Donald Trump and point out everything that was going wrong with Trump's America.
Certainly reporters gave her lots of opportunities.
Instead, the outgoing central bank chief brimmed with confidence for the economic state of the nation.
"Look, at the moment the U.S. economy is performing well," Yellen told reporters. "The growth that we've seen is not based on, for example, an unsustainable build-up of debt as we had in the run up to the financial crisis."
While Yellen only announced a single quarter point increase in rates to 1.25 per cent effective immediately, she and her colleagues expect that rate to rise above three per cent by by 2020.
Canadians with long-term mortgage debt must face the fact that those "gradual" rate rises will mean finding the money to cover an increase of two full percentage points in annual interest rates.
Synchronized global expansion
If Yellen turns out to be justified in her optimism, a much stronger North American economy will help those borrowers cope. Because the current wave of economic strength is not just a U.S. phenomenon.
"The global economy is doing well. We're in a synchronized expansion," said Yellen. "It's the first time in many years that we've seen this."
"I feel good that the labour market is in a very much stronger place than it was eight years ago," she said, citing the 17 million jobs the economy has created and an unemployment rate that means new entrants to the workforce are being gobbled up.
She and her panel of advisers projected an even lower jobless rate of four per cent, which is forcing employers not to merely look for qualified workers, but to train the ones they need.
"I feel very pleased when I hear anecdotes from firms that they are having trouble finding workers and they talk about, given that, they're taking on people with skills that don't quite match what they want and training them," Yellen said. "I think that's a development that is a natural one in a strong labour market that tends to build human capital and worker skills, and that is a strong positive."
Asked repeatedly about the impact of the latest round of U.S. tax cuts, Yellen remained sanguine. Pointing out that tax and fiscal policy was up to the president and Congress, she said any increase of economic growth it caused was a good thing, and that managing the monetary impact of such growth was well within the Fed's power.
One reporter mentioned that during Yellen's hour-long Federal Reserve media conference, speaking elsewhere, Trump had restated his promise of four per cent growth.
She politely pointed out that reaching such growth levels would be "challenging."
Leaving on a high note
Asked about two other bogie-men threatening the economy, a sky-high U.S. stock market and bitcoin, she saw both as relatively benign.
She played down another worry frequently mentioned by commentators looking out for trouble ahead. That is the so called "flattening yield curve" where short-term interest rates rise relative to longer-term rates. The moment when short rates exceed long rates — called "an inverted yield curve" — is supposed to signal recession.
Yellen insisted that with rates so low for so long there are different forces at work, and that she and the rest of the committee of advisers say the odds of recession are low.
"There's less to lose sleep about now than there has been for quite some time," said Yellen which is certainly a good way to end a successful term as the world's most powerful central banker, and a nice way for the rest of us to head into the holiday season.
Follow Don on Twitter at don_pittis
More analysis from Don Pittis