The following are highlights from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's press conference on Wednesday after the central bank's monetary policy committee meeting. This is the first regularly scheduled press conference by a Fed chief.
In a statement following the meeting, the Fed said it would finish its $600 billion bond-buying program in June as scheduled, and repeated its plans to keep interest rates low for an extended period.
ON GASOLINE PRICES:
This is a very adverse development. It accounts in the short-run for pretty much almost the all the increase in our inflation forecast at least in the very near-term. There is not much the Federal Reserve can do about gas prices, at least not without derailing growth entirely, which is certainly not the right way to go. What we can do is try to keep higher gas prices from passing into other prices and wages throughout the economy, creating a broader inflation, which would be much more difficult to extinguish.
Our view is gas prices will not continue to rise at their recent pace. As they stabilize and even come down as the situation stabilizes in the Middle East, that will provide some relief on the inflation front, but we will have to watch it very carefully.
ON EXTENDED PERIOD LANGUAGE:
I don't know exactly how long it will be before a tightening process begins, it will depend obviously on the outlook.... The extended period language is conditional on ... resource slack, on subdued inflation and on stable inflation expectations. Once those conditions are violated, or when we're moving away from those conditions, that will be the time to begin to tighten.
Extended period suggests there would be a couple of meetings before action, but unfortunately (the reason) we use this vaguer terminology is that we don't know how quickly a response will be required. Therefore we will do our best to communicate our view but that will depend entirely on how the economy evolves.
ON THE DOLLAR:
The Federal Reserve believes that a strong and stable dollar is both in American interests and in the interest of the global economy...In our view if we do what's needed to pursue our dual mandate for price stability, maximum employment, that will also generate fundamentals that will help the dollar in the medium term.
The best thing we can do to create strong fundamentals for the dollar in the medium term is to first keep inflation low, which maintains the buying power of the dollar, and second, to maintain a strong economy.
ON INFLATION EXPECTATIONS:
For the most part, I think it's fair to say that medium-term inflation expectations have not really moved very much and they still indicate confidence that the Fed will ensure that inflation in the medium term will be close to what I've called the mandate-consistent level.
ON TRANSITORY NATURE OF SLOWDOWN:
I would say that roughly that most of the slowdown in the first quarter is viewed by the committee as being transitory. That being said, we have taken our forecast down just a bit, taking into account factors like weaker construction and possibly just a bit less momentum in the economy.
ON ZERO INFLATION
Attempting to maintain inflation at zero will increase the risk of experiencing an extended bout of deflation or falling wages and prices, which in turn can lead employment to fall below its maximum sustainable level for a protracted period. The goal of zero inflation is not consistent with the Federal Reserve's dual mandate.