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Powell says US job market is cooling, a possible signal for interest rate cut

Congress has given the Fed a dual mandate: To keep prices stable and to promote maximum employment.

Federal Reserve Powell

US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has reinforced a message that the Fed is paying growing attention to a slowing job market and not only to taming inflation, a shift that signals it is likely to begin cutting interest rates soon.

“We’re not just an inflation-targeting central bank,” Mr Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on the second of two days of semi-annual testimony to Congress.

“We also have an employment mandate.”

On Tuesday, when Mr Powell addressed the Senate Banking Committee, he suggested that the Fed had made “considerable progress” toward its goal of defeating the worst inflation spike in four decades and noted that cutting rates “too late or too little could unduly weaken economic activity and employment”.

Congress has given the Fed a dual mandate: To keep prices stable and to promote maximum employment.

“For a long time,” Mr Powell said on Wednesday, “we’ve had to focus on the inflation mandate.”

As the economy roared out of the pandemic recession, inflation reached a four-decade high in mid-2022.

The Fed responded by raising its benchmark rate 11 times in 2022 and 2023. Inflation has plummeted from its 9.1% peak to 3.3%.

The economy and job market have continued to grow, defying widespread predictions that much higher borrowing costs would cause a recession.

Still, growth has weakened this year. From April through June, US employers added an average 177,000 jobs a month, the lowest three-month hiring pace since January 2021.

Mr Powell told the House panel on Wednesday that to avoid damaging the economy, the Fed likely would not wait until inflation reached its 2% target before it would start cutting rates.

Most economists have said they expect the Fed’s first rate cut to occur in September. Mr Powell this week has declined to say when he envisions the first cut.

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