CONGRESS

Yellen Sees ‘Several More Months of Rapid Inflation' Before Easing, Worries About Housing Impact

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  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNBC on Thursday that she expects the U.S. economy will see "several more months of rapid inflation."
  • She expects prices ultimately will fall back to more normal levels, and cited market-based inflation measures as proof that longer-term expectations remain in check.
  • However, she expressed concern about the impact on lower-income homebuyers at a time when housing prices are soaring.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen cautioned Thursday that prices could continue to rise for several more months, though she expects the recent startling inflation run to ease over time,.

In a CNBC interview, the Cabinet official added that she worries about the problems inflation could pose for lower-income families looking to buy homes at a time when real estate values are surging.

"We will have several more months of rapid inflation," Yellen told Sara Eisen during a "Closing Bell" interview. "So I'm not saying that this is a one-month phenomenon. But I think over the medium term, we'll see inflation decline back toward normal levels. But, of course, we have to keep a careful eye on it."

The consumer price index, which measures costs for a wide range of items, increased 5.4% in June, the fastest pace in nearly 13 years. Excluding food and energy, the gauge rose 4.5%, the fastest acceleration in nearly 30 years. Prices that goods and services producers receive for their products jumped 7.3%, a record for data going back to 2010.

Also, housing prices in the nation's largest cities climbed nearly 15% in the most recent measurements from S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller.

All of that has added up to concern that inflationary pressures could stall the aggressive U.S. economic recovery, with the housing escalation raising fears of a bubble.

"So I don't think we're seeing the same kinds of danger in this that we saw in the runup to the financial crisis in 2008," Yellen said. "It's a very different phenomenon. But I do worry about affordability and the pressures that higher housing prices will create for families that are first-time homebuyers or have less income."

Some positive signs

Though consumer surveys point to expectations of higher inflation ahead, Yellen said she is encouraged by market-based measures that suggest prices will cool over the longer term.

Despite the inflation fears, the 10-year Treasury yield, considered a benchmark for growth, has tumbled below 1.3% after rising a full percentage point to around 1.75% from October 2020 to March 2021.

Other gauges, such as a widely used market measure of the yield differences between 5- and 10-year Treasurys and inflation-indexed bonds of the same durations, have ticked lower from 13-year highs seen in May.

"Measures of inflation expectations I think still look quite well contained over the medium term," Yellen said. "Those expectations are actually a driver of price-setting behavior. And so it is important that we monitor it carefully. But I believe fundamentally, you know, that this is something that will settle down."

On Treasury yields specifically, she said they are "the market expressing its views that inflation does remain under control."

Yellen spoke as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell faced grilling this week from House and Senate lawmakers over whether historically easy Fed policy and aggressive congressional spending risked runaway inflation. The Fed, which Yellen once chaired, has run its balance sheet above $8 trillion during the pandemic, while Congress is staring down its second consecutive year of a $3 trillion budget deficit.

Powell acknowledged that the Fed "is not comfortable" with the current rate of inflation, but he also expects that to subside as factors unique to the pandemic recede and conditions return to normal. For her part, Yellen said spending associated with the White House-backed American Rescue Plan is helping the recovery.

"I think we're seeing it having the desired effect as well as – preventing scarring and harm to families and their finances," she said.

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