The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates and set the stage for two more increases in the cost of borrowing this year. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the economy is getting close to what he considers a “normal level,” where the Fed won’t have to do as much fussing and tinkering. Marketplace senior reporter Nancy Marshall-Genzer was at the Fed briefing yesterday and spoke about it with David Brancaccio. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: What’d you learn?
Nancy Marshall-Genzer: Well David, Powell started his press conference yesterday by saying the interest rate hike is a signal the economy is doing very well getting back to normal. Powell said most people who want a job can find one. Although he did say wages aren’t rising like they normally would when unemployment is this low, but Powell said interest rates are getting closer to a neutral level.
Brancaccio: Neutral? What does that mean?
Marshall-Genzer: It’s kind of like when you’re adjusting the temperature of the water in the shower. You don’t want the water freezing cold you don’t want it scalding hot. You want it just hot enough to wake you up. When you’re at a neutral interest rate, the Fed is not pushing on the gas to perk the economy up or hitting the brakes to slow it down. It’s the interest rate you want when the economy is just right. But we’re not there yet, and that’s why the Fed is continuing to hike interest rates.
Brancaccio: Now I saw you asked Chair Powell about corporate debt?
Marshall-Genzer: I did because corporations are borrowing money at low interest rates to increase dividends for shareholders and even buy back their own stock. Powell did acknowledge that corporate debt is at record levels …
Powell: But defaults are low, interest rates are low. So it’s something that’s something we’re watching very carefully. But again I don’t think we see it as, I think there are a range of views on that, but we are watching non-financial corporates.
Marshall-Genzer: … And by non-financial corporates power means corporations that aren’t banks. Powell went on to say he’s not worried about consumer debt because we’re not seeing problems with mortgages like before the financial crisis.
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