Was This a Fed Chief Talking? How Powell Sounded Different

Only recently has the Federal Reserve tried to communicate directly and transparently to the public. Its new chairman is pushing ahead on that frontier.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, fielded reporters’ questions on Wednesday after the Fed’s policymakers ended their meeting.CreditMichael Reynolds/Epa, via Shutterstock

Federal Reserve chiefs were long known for saying little, and making what they did say as opaque as possible. It’s been barely seven years since central bankers began to hold news conferences after policy meetings — and even then, only on alternate occasions.

In his news conference on Wednesday, Jerome H. Powell, who became Fed chairman in February, moved the central bank further into the daylight. He said he would meet reporters after the conclusion of each policy meeting. And he departed in many ways from the guarded or arcane language others favored. Here are notable examples.

Mr. Powell dispensed with the usual practice of reading the full statement of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, which sets rates, before taking questions. His aim, he said, was to “start with a plain English summary of how the economy is doing.” He certainly did that: He didn’t resort to even a single statistic at the start of his opening remarks.

Under Mr. Powell’s predecessor, Janet L. Yellen, the Fed had a term for what he’s describing: “data dependent.” He omitted that phrase here, in favor of “plain English” words.

Fed leaders are typically hesitant to make bold pronouncements about the future, and are more comfortable discussing current conditions, or trends from the recent past. Mr. Powell seems more willing to make firm predictions.

First-person-singular alert. Fed chiefs normally use the royal “we,” or at least put the committee first when summing up their positions. Mr. Powell seems more willing to go it alone.

Books have been written on the Fed and its role in the American economy. But Mr. Powell summed it up in four words, and didn’t even cite the classic description: “dual mandate.”

Ms. Yellen was careful to qualify descriptions of the economy’s strength with a nod to those left behind, especially workers who were still on the sidelines or had not benefited much from the recovery. Mr. Powell offered an unreserved assessment of growth and good times.

Still, the Fed chairman showed discretion and restraint. He could have nodded to the risks posed to the global economy and key trading partners by tariffs or a trade war. But Mr. Powell seemed careful not to overstep the Fed’s purview — “I’m really committed to staying in our lane on things,” he said — by faulting Congress or the White House.

Nelson D. Schwartz has covered economics since 2012. Previously, he wrote about Wall Street and banking, and also served as European economic correspondent in Paris. He joined The Times in 2007 as a feature writer for the Sunday Business section. @NelsonSchwartz

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