Excerpts from Chair Janet Yellen Semiannual Monetary Policy Report Before the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.:
Looking ahead, my colleagues on the FOMC and I expect that, with further gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, the economy will continue to expand at a moderate pace over the next couple of years, with the job market strengthening somewhat further and inflation rising to 2 percent. This judgment reflects our view that monetary policy remains accommodative. Ongoing job gains should continue to support the growth of incomes and, therefore, consumer spending; global economic growth should support further gains in U.S. exports; and favorable financial conditions, coupled with the prospect of continued gains in domestic and foreign spending and the ongoing recovery in drilling activity, should continue to support business investment. These developments should increase resource utilization somewhat further, thereby fostering a stronger pace of wage and price increases.
Of course, considerable uncertainty always attends the economic outlook. There is, for example, uncertainty about when--and how much--inflation will respond to tightening resource utilization. Possible changes in fiscal and other government policies here in the United States represent another source of uncertainty. In addition, although the prospects for the global economy appear to have improved somewhat this year, a number of our trading partners continue to confront economic challenges. At present, I see roughly equal odds that the U.S. economy's performance will be somewhat stronger or somewhat less strong than we currently project.
The Committee continues to expect that the evolution of the economy will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time to achieve and maintain maximum employment and stable prices. That expectation is based on our view that the federal funds rate remains somewhat below its neutral level--that is, the level of the federal funds rate that is neither expansionary nor contractionary and keeps the economy operating on an even keel. Because the neutral rate is currently quite low by historical standards, the federal funds rate would not have to rise all that much further to get to a neutral policy stance. But because we also anticipate that the factors that are currently holding down the neutral rate will diminish somewhat over time, additional gradual rate hikes are likely to be appropriate over the next few years to sustain the economic expansion and return inflation to our 2 percent goal. Even so, the Committee continues to anticipate that the longer-run neutral level of the federal funds rate is likely to remain below levels that prevailed in previous decades.
Let me now turn to our balance sheet. Last month the FOMC augmented its Policy Normalization Principles and Plans by providing additional details on the process that we will follow in normalizing the size of our balance sheet. The Committee intends to gradually reduce the Federal Reserve's securities holdings by decreasing its reinvestment of the principal payments it receives from the securities held in the System Open Market Account. Specifically, such payments will be reinvested only to the extent that they exceed gradually rising caps. Initially, these caps will be set at relatively low levels to limit the volume of securities that private investors will have to absorb. The Committee currently expects that, provided the economy evolves broadly as anticipated, it will likely begin to implement the program this year.