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Larry Summers Sees Need For More Tightening Despite Soft June Jobs Data

Former Treasury Secretary warns of inflation risk and suggests further interest rate hikes.

The softer-than-expected June non-farm payrolls data has polarized economists, with some suggesting the Federal Reserve should stall rate hikes to avert a recession. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, however, sees the need for more tightening.

 The data released last week reflects “hot numbers,” said Summers in an interview with Bloomberg that aired on Friday. The rate of job creation is twice as great as the growth in the number of adults in an already overheated economy, he said.

“That’s not consistent with bringing inflation down to its target level,” said Summers. He also noted that the wage data points to inflation way above the Fed’s target.

Although the unemployment rate of the non-farm payrolls report came in at 3.6%, other labor market indicators released this week — including the quit rate, the level of vacancies, the layoff rate, and the insured unemployment rate — point to an even tighter unemployment rate than the 3.6%, Summers said.

“So I think we’ve got an economy that is currently very strong, not sustainably strong in terms of the rate of job creation,” the former Treasury official said. Given that strength, inflation and indicators of forward inflation continue to be well above target, he added.

“Once again, the Fed has underestimated inflation for basically the eighth quarter in a row,” said Summers.

“They’ve been surprised on what has happened to inflation, and because they are surprised on what’s happening with inflation and the strength of the economy, they’re going to be surprised by what they have to do to interest rates,” he added.

Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary and a former economic adviser to US President Barack Obama, speaks on the current and future state of the US economy at the Economic Policy Conference hosted by the National Association for Business Economics in Arlington, Virginia, on February 24, 2014. (SAUL LOEB via Getty) 

Summers said there has been an appropriate adjustment in the medium-term interest rates, and there is likely to be a further adjustment as data continues to come in, adding, “I think it’s a mistake to be distracted by the Wiggles.”

“If you step back to the bigger picture, nobody thinks we can continue indefinitely to create jobs twice as fast as the adult population grows,” said the economist. The labor market could get tighter and, in turn, inflation could remain high, Summers said.

The reason it’s taking longer to bring inflation under control is that measures to tackle inflation started late, he said.

“Given how late we started, we didn’t move sufficiently because we believed mistakenly that the neutral interest rate was still very low, and we believed mistakenly that raising interest rates would have large impacts on the economy that was greater than the impacts of interest rates,” said Summers.

Inflation remains well above target because the economy hasn’t seen a significant slowdown in economic activity, the economist said.

The best guess is that the Fed will have to raise rates more — if the Fed wants to see inflation get back to its target, the central bank will have to raise rates enough that, at some point, the economy suffers a downturn, said Summers.

Produced in association with Benzinga

Edited by Judy Marie Sansom and Alberto Arellano

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