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Fed chair says economic support could be dialed back this year

Federal Reserve chairmanJerome Powellgave the strongest signal yet that some pandemic-era support that's bolstered the economy and stock market might go away this year. But he stopped short of a firm commitment and timeline.

Why it matters: In a closely-watched speech, Powell was upbeat on the recovery — though he warned about the Delta variant and "harmful effects" of winding down support too soon.

What they're saying: "If the economy evolved broadly as anticipated, it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year," Powell said, referring to the $120 billion worth of bonds it buys each month.

  • Yes, but: There's "much ground to cover" before the Fed eases lifts off of rock-bottom interest rates, Powell said — another way the Fed's goosed the economy.

Details: Powell spoke at the annual Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming — a conference that went virtual as the virus raged across the country.

Catch up quick: There's been a fierce debate among traders and economists about whether the economy has made "substantial further progress" toward the Fed's goals — what Powell has said could trigger it to pull back support.

  • Prices are rising at the fastest rate in decades, though Powell again said this would prove to be temporary once supply chains are untangled and other reopening quirks fade.
  • The labor market has recovered nearly three-quarters of jobs wiped out at the pandemic onset. But it's still short 6 million, with millions more out of the job market altogether.

The intrigue: A parade of Fed officials — including some voting members — had the same message in a series media interviews ahead of Powell's speech: it's time to start tapering bond purchases, though they differed on exactly when.

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