Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said he thinks the U.S. central bank can still achieve a soft landing, with inflation returning to the Fed’s 2% target without triggering a significant downturn.
“Yes, the economy could go into recession, but that’s not the base case,” Bullard told the Economic Club of Minneapolis on Friday. “I think the base case is slow growth, probably a somewhat softer labor market and declining inflation.”
“I think all of you should put most of your weight on that scenario,” he added.
Bullard is not a voter on the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee this year.
He also said Friday’s jobs report was stronger than expected and noted that job openings are still much higher than they were before the pandemic.
“This is a very tight labor market. It’s going to take a while to cool it off,” he said. “I think we have to be patient on that dimension and understand that.”
Data released earlier Friday showed U.S. employers added an unexpectedly solid 253,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate fell back to a multi-decade low of 3.4%, and average hourly earnings rose 4.4% from April last year.
Fed officials raised rates by a quarter point on Wednesday to a 5%-5.25% target range, the highest level since 2007, while signaling they could pause at their meeting in June.
The move extended the most aggressive tightening campaign in decades as U.S. central bankers fight generation-high rates of inflation. Price pressures have eased from their peak but remain more than double the Fed’s target.
Bullard said he supported the move and said the “preponderance” of the committee wanted to see interest rates above 5%. He also played down recent stress in the banking sector, which he said can be managed.