In a stunning admission, Jerome Powell, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, told the world the United States "may well be in recession" as a result of the rapid and staggering economic hit delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said progress in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus will determine when the economy can fully reopen, contradicting the desire by President Donald Trump to reopen the hard-hit economy by April 12, Easter Sunday, because it would be a "beautiful" day to do this.
Economists continue to come to grips with the magnitude of the pandemic's current and future effects on the U.S. economy. During the rare network TV interview on NBC's Today Show, Powell offered his own assessment of the coronavirus-triggered economic hit, noting the current downturn is unprecedented.
"We may well be in a recession," he said. "But I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. We are starting from a very strong position."
Powell also sought to reassure anxious citizens and businessmen the Fed still has the backs. He emphasized the Fed will act "aggressively" to keep firms and families afloat.
"The Federal Reserve is working hard to support you now," he said. "Our policies will be very important when the recovery does come, to make that recovery as strong as possible."
Powell did point out the Fed, in its future decisions regarding the coronavirus crisis will be guided by the science and the medical experts.
"We are not experts in pandemic... We would tend to listen to the experts. Dr. Fauci said something like the virus is going to set the timetable, and that sounds right to me," said Powell.
Asked about Trump's recent suggestion the U.S. economy could be open again by Easter Sunday, Powell sided with the experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of Trump's coronavirus task force.
"The virus is going to dictate the timetable," noted Powell. "The sooner we get through this period, and get this virus under control, the sooner the recovery can come."
Some economists note the Fed has few resources left to blunt another huge crisis due to the breadth of its massive bond-buying program and its 0% interest rates. Powell has been criticized for this and responded during the interview by saying he and his colleagues aren't lacking the tools they need.
"When it comes to lending, we are not going to run out of ammunition," he said. "That just doesn't happen."
Powell spoke just about an hour before data from the Department of Labor revealed record-breaking unemployment claim amounting to 3.28 million -- the largest in U.S. history.