Fed Chair Powell says he would not resign if asked

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday said he has not received any direct communication from the White House about his job performance, and that he would not resign even if President Donald Trump asked him to do so.

Trump, who picked Powell to head the Fed starting last February, has been intensely and publicly critical of Powell's Fed and Powell personally, accusing him of hurting the economy by raising rates. Powell said he has no meeting scheduled with Trump.

Powell also moved to ease concerns in financial markets, saying that while U.S. economic momentum is solid, the central bank is sensitive to the risks highlighted by investors and will be patient with its monetary policy in 2019.

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Jerome Powell through the years
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Jerome Powell through the years
FILE: Jerome Powell, governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve, stands for a photograph at the board's headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 13, 2017. With the White House scheduling an announcement for 3 p.m. in Washington on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump will announce Powell, 64, as his nominee to be Federal Reserve chairman, said several people familiar with the decision, replacing Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires in February. Our editors select the best archive images of Jerome Powell. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE: Jerome Powell, governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve, stands for a photograph at the board's headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 13, 2017. With the White House scheduling an announcement for 3 p.m. in Washington on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump will announce Powell, 64, as his nominee to be Federal Reserve chairman, said several people familiar with the decision, replacing Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires in February. Our editors select the best archive images of Jerome Powell. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jerome H. Powell, a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve System, prepares to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Federal Reserve Board Governor Jerome Powell discusses financial regulation in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Jerome H. Powell, a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve System, prepares to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Jerome H. Powell, a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve System, prepares to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Christopher Giancarlo, Federal Reserve Board Governor Jerome Powell and moderator Reuters columnist Gina Chon discuss financial regulation in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell attends the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's annual Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Crosby
Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell delivers remarks during a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell attends a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen (L) congratulates Fed Governor Jerome Powell at his swearing-in ceremony for a new term on the Fed's board, in Washington in this handout photo taken and released June 16, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Federal Reserve/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Federal Reserve Board Governors Jeremy Stein (L) and Jerome Powell attend the swearing in of new Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)
Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Jerome Powell listens during an open board meeting at the Federal Reserve in Washington December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Jerome Powell listens during an open board meeting at the Federal Reserve in Washington December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Elissa Leonard looks on as her husband Jerome Powell is sworn in as a member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors by Chairman Ben Bernanke in Washington in this Federal Reserve System handout photo dated May 25, 2012. The former investment banker and U.S. Treasury official is due to fill a term expiring Jan. 31, 2014. REUTERS/Federal Reserve System/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Jerome Powell, governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, shakes hands with Terry Lundgren, chairman of The Economic Club of New York and executive chairman of Macy's Inc., after speaking at an Economic Club of New York event in New York, U.S., on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Powell�is calling for gradual interest rate increases and a start to balance-sheet reductions later this year if the economy stays on track, though hes watching a recent slowdown in inflation. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jerome Powell, governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve, speaks during an Economic Club of New York event in New York, U.S., on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Powell�is calling for gradual interest rate increases and a start to balance-sheet reductions later this year if the economy stays on track, though hes watching a recent slowdown in inflation. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Daniel Tarullo, left, and Jerome Powell, governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve, talk before the start of a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The Federal Reserve took the final step to ensure it can't repeat the extraordinary steps taken to rescue American International Group Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. in 2008, adopting formal restrictions on its ability to help failing financial firms. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jeremy Stein, nominee to be a member of the board of governors with the U.S. Federal Reserve, right, listens to fellow nominee Jerome Powell speak during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke stands to gain two lieutenants with expertise on financial markets if the Senate confirms President Barack Obama's nominees to the Board of Governors. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jerome Powell, nominee to be a member of the board of governors with the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing with fellow nominee Jeremy Stein in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke stands to gain two lieutenants with expertise on financial markets if the Senate confirms President Barack Obama's nominees to the Board of Governors. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Janet Yellen, former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, center, speaks while Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, and Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, listen during the American Economic Association and Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Powell said the central bank can be patient as it assesses risks to a U.S. economy and will adjust policy quickly if needed, but made clear he would not resign if President Donald Trump asked him to step aside. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, speaks during the American Economic Association and Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Powell said the central bank can be patient as it assesses risks to a U.S. economy and will adjust policy quickly if needed, but made clear he would not resign if President Donald Trump asked him to step aside. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, speaks during the American Economic Association and Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Powell said the central bank can be patient as it assesses risks to a U.S. economy and will adjust policy quickly if needed, but made clear he would not resign if President Donald Trump asked him to step aside. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2018 -- U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 19, 2018. The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, but signaled a slower pace of rate hikes next year as the U.S. economy is expected to cool down. (Xinhua/Liu Jie) (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2018 -- U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 19, 2018. The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, but signaled a slower pace of rate hikes next year as the U.S. economy is expected to cool down. (Xinhua/Liu Jie) (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2018 -- U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 19, 2018. The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, but signaled a slower pace of rate hikes next year as the U.S. economy is expected to cool down. (Xinhua/Liu Jie) (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, and Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, arrive for a Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) meeting at the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. When Mnuchin fingered high-frequency trading and the Volcker Rule as factors behind recent misery in the stock market he left out some other possibilities that might be contributing. Namely, the White Houses's ongoing trade conflict with China and President Donald Trump's threat last week to shut down the government. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, center, speaks during a Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) meeting at the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. When Mnuchin fingered high-frequency trading and the Volcker Rule as factors behind recent misery in the stock market he left out some other possibilities that might be contributing. Namely, the White Houses's ongoing trade conflict with China and President Donald Trump's threat last week to shut down the government. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, center, speaks while Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, and Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), listen during a Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) meeting at the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. When Mnuchin fingered high-frequency trading and the Volcker Rule as factors behind recent misery in the stock market he left out some other possibilities that might be contributing. Namely, the White Houses's ongoing trade conflict with China and President Donald Trump's threat last week to shut down the government. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Speaking after months of volatility in world financial markets, and just hours after a monthly jobs report suggested the U.S. economy remained robust, Powell's soothing comments initially pushed stock indexes higher.

"Particularly with the muted inflation readings that we've seen coming in, we will be patient as we watch to see how the economy evolves," he told the American Economic Association, adding that the Fed is not on a preset path of tightening policy and suggesting it could pause rate hikes as it did in 2016.

"We are always prepared to shift the stance of policy and to shift it significantly" if needed, said Powell, who spoke on a panel in Atlanta alongside former Fed chiefs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke.

"The markets are pricing in downside risks ... and they are obviously well ahead of the data, particularly if you look at this morning's labor market data," Powell added.

The Fed chairman added: "I'll just say that we are listening carefully to that ... listening sensitively to the message that markets are sending and we are going to be taking those downside risks into account as we make policy going forward."

Earlier on Friday, the Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls jumped by 312,000 jobs, well above market expectations, while wages and labor force participation rose, all signals of sustained economic strength.

Powell called the December jobs report "very strong" and said U.S. data seems "to be on track to sustain good momentum into the new year."

The U.S. central bank hiked interest rates four times last year, including in December when policymakers' forecasts pointed to two more rises this year. Markets, however, have mostly tumbled since October on fears of a global economic slowdown and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

Futures traders on Friday were pricing in a small chance of a rate hike this year, versus no chance seen before Powell began speaking.

(AOL contributed to this report; Reporting by Howard Schneider; Writing by Ann Saphir and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

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