"The speed and intensity of this downturn – and the rapidity of the recovery in many areas – are without modern precedent," Powell said in opening remarks during a virtual "Fed Listens" event, a series of community discussions focused on the economic recovery from the pandemic.
Speaking to representatives from a range of sectors, Powell acknowledged the various disruptions that COVID-19 has caused for businesses over the past 18 months, including changed workplaces – with safety protocols that are unclear to fundamental shifts in how certain industries operate – uncertain business outlooks and transformed consumer behavior.
"While uncertainty often results in immobility for businesses, it can also spell opportunity, and the creativity and adaptability on display over the past 18 months have been among the few bright spots," Powell said. "I have been amazed and inspired by the flexibility and ingenuity, particularly that of small businesses, in shifting to meet the demands of a new reality."
Powell's comments come two days after policymakers at the U.S. central bank signaled they could soon start slowing their aggressive bond-buying program, the first step that policymakers will take to dialing back pandemic-era support for the economy.
If the economy continues making progress toward the U.S. central bank's goals on inflation and employment, "the committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted," the Federal Open Market Committee said in its post-meeting statement, released Wednesday.
The Fed continued to hold interest rates at the rock bottom level where they have sat since March 2020, when COVID-19 forced an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy. It also committed to keep purchasing $120 billion in bonds each month, a policy known as "quantitative easing" that's designed to keep credit cheap.
Officials have said that reducing bond purchases will be the first step the Fed takes in returning to a more normal policy setting.
Powell told reporters in the post-meeting press conference that tapering "could come as soon as the next meeting," which takes place Nov. 2-3. Still, he clarified that tapering will not necessitate an immediate rate liftoff, and left the possibility that the Fed may wait longer if needed.
"The timing and pace of the coming reduction in asset purchases will not be intended to carry a direct signal regarding the timing of interest rate liftoff," he said.