By KEVIN G. HALL
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pointed Thursday to “increased evidence” of a self-sustaining economic recovery and strongly rejected suggestions that his policies are driving up global food prices and destabilizing Egypt and other emerging markets.
The Fed chairman was unusually upbeat on the U.S. economy’s outlook, noting in a speech at the National Press Club that “we have seen increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold.”
Pointing to data from last week showing that households boosted their spending by an annual rate of 4 percent in the final three months of 2010, Bernanke added that “the recent gains in consumer spending look to have been reasonably broad based.”
The stock market this week also reached levels not seen in more than two years. The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 12,000 Tuesday for the first time since June 2008 and has not yet closed below that benchmark.
Consumption drives about two-thirds of U.S. activity, so anything that points to consumers picking up their spending is a hopeful sign. Employers have been waiting for firm and consistent signs of increased consumption before boosting their hiring, and monthly employment numbers are slowly improving.
He took care to repeat points he has made in the past: that inflation is well contained and that it will take quite some time for the unemployment rate to fall sharply.