Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen said she still expects to raise interest rates this year and repeated that the subsequent pace of increases will be gradual.
“I expect that it will be appropriate at some point later this year to take the first step to raise the federal funds rate and thus begin normalizing monetary policy,” Yellen said in her first public remarks since the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
“But I want to emphasize that the course of the economy and inflation remains highly uncertain, and unanticipated developments could delay or accelerate this first step,” she said in the text of a speech Friday in Cleveland.
Yellen, 68, is moving the Fed cautiously toward its first interest-rate increase in almost a decade as she weighs conflicting pressures at home and from abroad. While improving economic data in the U.S. may push the Fed to consider tightening as soon as September, risks from Greece and China could prompt a delay.
In her only mention of Greece in her prepared remarks, Yellen said the situation in that country “remains unresolved.”
Fed policy makers in June forecast two quarter-point rate increases this year. The pace of tightening next year will be more gradual than they expected in March, the latest forecasts show. Since the June meeting, the labor market has shown further gains, along with housing and manufacturing, adding to evidence the economy is overcoming a first-quarter slump.
Yellen said her outlook for the economy and inflation is “broadly consistent with the central tendency of the projections submitted by FOMC participants at the time of our June meeting.”
The Fed chair devoted a large section of her speech to explaining how labor markets still haven’t met her criteria for full employment. The unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent in June.
“A significant number of individuals still are not seeking work because they perceive a lack of good job opportunities,” she said. “While the labor market has improved, it still has not fully recovered.”
Yellen said the share of workers in part-time jobs who would prefer full-time work “remains higher that it would be in a full-employment economy.”
She said there have been “some tentative hints” of a pick-up in wages that “may indicate that the objective of full employment is coming closer into view.”
In her overall assessment of the economy, Yellen was similarly cautious but upbeat.
“Many of the fundamental factors underlying U.S. economic activity are solid and should lead to some pickup in the pace of economic growth in the coming years,” Yellen said in her address to the City Club of Cleveland. “In particular, I anticipate that employment will continue to expand and the unemployment rate will decline further.”
She noted two specific drags on the U.S. economy: the strengthened dollar’s impact on exports and the decline in business investment linked to lower oil prices.