In two days of congressional testimony, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen reiterated her belief that the economic slowdown in the U.S. will likely be temporary and that she still expects a strong labor market to carry the day.
That said, Yellen did acknowledge lurking dangers beyond the persistently low inflation plaguing the Fed, including China's weakening economy and the upheaval in global markets.
"This is something that happens twice a year, so there is no emergency here," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, referring to the Fed chair's visits to Congress. "The important thing to note is the prepared comments historically echo the last statement out by the Fed, so typically the script is written before you get there."
In her prepared remarks, Yellen relied heavily on the potential for continued job creation, increasing wages and the idea that household spending would keep the U.S. economy going. But she also acknowledged that global and U.S. market conditions could turn that outlook on its head.
Here are some takeaways from Yellen's time with lawmakers:
1. Economic weakness overseas, especially in China. "Foreign economic developments, in particular, pose risks to U.S. economic growth," Yellen said. "Most notably, although recent economic indicators do not suggest a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth, declines in the foreign exchange value of the renminbi have intensified uncertainty about China's exchange rate policy and the prospects for its economy."
2. The market turmoil. "Financial conditions in the United States have recently become less supportive of growth, with declines in broad measures of equity prices, higher borrowing rates for riskier borrowers and a further appreciation of the dollar. These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market," Yellen said.
The Fed chair pretty much confirmed what many market observers and some economists have been saying: The recent squeeze in financial conditions could be worse than expected. "She spoke to the tightening of financial markets and said it'll take a while to see if global financial conditions spill over to U.S. economy," said Hogan.
3. The U.S. economy. It probably can handle the global slowdown and market upheaval, and while the four rate hikes in 2016 that the Fed initially penciled in back in December are certainly not all still in the cards, the central bank remains intent on continued hiking.
Yellen didn't bother trying to counter market expectations that Fed policymakers would refrain from further rises in short-term interest rates at its March and June meetings, but she did retain the option of hiking later in the year. Yellen's public comments on Capitol Hill this week were her first in two months, following the Fed's initial increase in short-term rates in December.
4. The gotcha moment. If there was one, it was the talk of negative interest rates, according to Hogan, who hastened to add the exchanges displayed a "disconnect between honest Q-and-A and reality: It's still in the Fed's consciousness that the next move is another rate hike."
5. What's Congress doing to help? A preponderance of the questions lawmakers asked Yellen had little or nothing to do with monetary policy, noted Hogan, who said that scenario has been in play for a good 10 years.
"A lot of questions not about monetary policy should be turned around and asked of the people asking those questions," Hogan said. "What can we do to create jobs? How about a more efficient tax code. It's an interesting conundrum, where you get lawmakers asking questions of the Federal Reserve about things they should be tackling themselves."