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The US labour market has not yet healed sufficiently to warrant a reduction in the central bank’s pandemic-era stimulus programme, however a scaling back could be appropriate later this year, a senior Federal Reserve official said on Wednesday.

In remarks at St Lawrence University, New York Fed president John Williams highlighted the risks to the economic outlook posed by the more virulent Delta coronavirus variant but said he expected “meaningful” enough job gains this year to set the stage for the central bank to soon begin withdrawing its pandemic-era stimulus.

The Fed has pledged to buy $120bn of Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities each month until it sees “substantial further progress” on its goals of inflation that averages 2 per cent and maximum employment.

Williams on Wednesday said the Fed had achieved the first goal, and said that while there had been “very good progress” on the second one, he wanted to see “more improvements” on the labour market front before declaring it met.

“Assuming the economy continues to improve as I anticipate, it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year,” he said. “As demand for workers and progress on hiring remains strong, I am confident that we will continue to see meaningful job gains and continued progress toward maximum employment.”

Williams did warn of potential setbacks, however, especially if the pandemic continues to weigh on business activity.

“The reopening of the economy means more jobs, more demand for products, and good momentum toward a full recovery,” he said. “But, even with the strong pace of growth we are seeing, a full recovery from the pandemic will take quite some time to complete.”

He added: “Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, there are indications in the most recent data that the spread of the Delta variant is weighing on consumer spending and jobs, and the pace of growth appears to be slowing somewhat relative to the first half.”

Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product is expected to increase about 6 per cent this year, Williams said.



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