Federal Reserve Bank Faces Challenges to Credibility

The Federal Reserve is attempting to tamp down two significant challenges to its credibility as both its handling of inflation and internal ethics face growing scrutiny. 

The central bank is quickly moving to address a scandal involving stock trades made by its top officials. And price increases are running higher and longer than many Fed officials expected, boosting pressure on the bank to slam the brakes on the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and back down from a new, more tolerant approach to inflation. 

The Fed last year launched a strategy that allows inflation to rise above the bank’s 2 percent annual target to make up for almost a decade of low price increases and stagnant wages. The new framework was meant to allow wages and employment to rise until inflation was on track to average out near the Fed’s ideal level before the bank hiked interest rates.

Even so, the persistence of high inflation and uncertainty over how long it will last is boosting pressure on the Fed to change course and deviate from its new framework. 

Prices grew by 4.3 percent in the year leading into August, according to the personal consumption expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. The consumer price index for September also showed steady increases in food, energy and housing prices, prompting interest rates on bonds to rise as Wall Street braces for higher inflation.

The Fed is almost certain to announce next month its plans to reduce its monthly purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds, initiated in March 2020 to keep markets flowing, with the economy well into its recovery. Powell reiterated Friday that the Fed does not plan to raise interest rates until the labor market is on track to fully recover from the pandemic.

Announcing a sooner start to interest rate hikes could appease inflation hawks and soothe some concern about rising prices. But experts say it would raise serious doubts about the Fed’s willingness to follow its own rules as it also scrambles to contain the fallout of a trading scandal involving at least two former top officials.