Powell: US economy healthy and rate hikes aren't automatic


But economists say three rate increases for next year are beginning to look less certain.

And Powell's words stood in stark contrast to his remarks of a month earlier, when he said rates were still "a long way" from neutral, perhaps suggesting the Fed actually had a lot more tightening to do.

Stock markets turned higher after release of the Fed minutes, continuing a rally begun on Wednesday when Fed chair Jerome Powell seemed to signal a possible shift in tone.

The speech was "a reassuring message from a market perspective because it removes concerns of a Fed dead set on tightening up to a point where rates would intentionally slow down the economy", he added.

The chairman also suggested that interest rates appear to be just below the level the Fed calls "neutral", where they are thought to neither stimulate growth nor impede it. The minutes show support for a fourth rate hike this year when the committee meets again, December 18-19, if the labor market and inflation continue as expected.

"The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent-a 49 year low, and many other measures of labor market strength are at or near historic bests", he said.

Matthew Cheslock, a trader at Virtu Financial, told CNNMoney editor-at-large Richard Quest on "Markets Now" Wednesday that the market interpreted Powell's comments as meaning that we are "closer to normal rates".

That appeared to signal that while the Fed may raise interest rates again next month, it isn't overly concerned about inflation, assuaging fears among many investors that rates will continue to climb for the foreseeable future.

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Trump on Tuesday again blasted his hand-picked chief of the United States central bank, saying he was "not even a little bit happy" with his selection of Powell.

"I'm doing deals and I'm not being accommodated by the Fed", Trump told the Washington Post.

"We know that things often turn out to be quite different from even the most careful forecasts", Powell said at an Economic Club of NY luncheon on Wednesday.

Investors will also focus on whether Powell addresses growing hostility from Trump, who said in an interview on Tuesday he is "not even a little bit happy" with the Fed chairman and that the central bank's policies were hurting the economy.

Many economists also worry about potential economic damage caused by Trump's trade conflicts with China and other nations.

If the Fed, as expected, raises the fed-funds rate next month to a band between 2.25% and 2.5%, that would leave it touching the bottom of the range of neutral estimates but four more quarter-percentage-point increases from the top. From the Fed's perspective, the interest rate hike in December will probably lead to an interest rate level that will no longer justify the automatism of a quarterly interest rate hike.

"Many baby boomers like me are, however, reaching an age where a good report is, 'Well, there are a number of things we should keep an eye on, but all things considered you are in good health, '" said Powell.

"I don't think instability is elevated", Powell said. Stocks and interest-rate futures jumped, even while economists wrestled to interpret whether he meant to send a message or was just misunderstood.