Fed’s Brainard sees balance sheet reduction soon and ‘at a rapid pace’

Fed’s Brainard sees balance sheet reduction soon and ‘at a rapid pace’

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Lael Brainard, Federal Reserve governor and President Bidens nominee to be the new vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, speaks during her nomination hearing with the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill January 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard, who normally favors loose policy and low rates, said Tuesday that the central bank needs to act quickly and aggressively to drive down inflation.

In a speech for a Minneapolis Fed discussion, Brainard said that policy tightening will include a speedy reduction in the balance sheet and a steady pace of interest rate increases. Her comments indicated that rate moves could be higher than the traditional 0.25 percentage point moves.

“Inflation is much too high and is subject to upside risks,” she said in prepared remarks. “The Committee is prepared to take stronger action if indicators of inflation and inflation expectations indicate that such action is warranted.”

The Fed already has approved one interest rate increase: a 0.25% hike at the March meeting that was the first in more than three years and likely one of many this year.

In addition, markets expect the Fed to lay out a plan at its May meeting for running down some of the nearly $9 trillion in assets, primarily Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities, on its balance sheet. According to Brainard’s Tuesday comments, that process will be swift.

“The Committee will continue tightening monetary policy methodically through a series of interest rate increases and by starting to reduce the balance sheet at a rapid pace as soon as our May meeting,” she said. “Given that the recovery has been considerably stronger and faster than in the previous cycle, I expect the balance sheet to shrink considerably more rapidly than in the previous recovery, with significantly larger caps and a much shorter period to phase in the maximum caps compared with 2017–19.”

Back then, the Fed allowed $50 billion in proceeds to roll off each month from maturing bonds and reinvested the rest. Market expectations are that the pace could double this time around.

The moves are in response to inflation running at its fastest pace in 40 years, well above the Fed’s 2% target. Market expectations are for rate increases at each of the remaining six meetings this year, possibly totaling 2.5 percentage points.

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