Federal Reserve officials warned the virus outbreak and a partial shutdown of the U.S. economy would result in a decline in the current quarter of historic proportions and risk the potential of massive bankruptcies that could create a lasting scar.

“You will get business failures on a grand scale and you will be taking risks that you would go into depression” if shutdowns persist, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said in a video speech from that city Tuesday. Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari warned of a “gradual, muted recovery” from the outbreak, while Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said the economy will need more fiscal stimulus if the jobless rate continues to rise.

Fed officials in mid-March cut interest rates to near zero and have unveiled unprecedented lending programs to cushion the blow from the pandemic. Even so, economic output may plunge by about 40% in the current quarter, Bullard warned, adding the government orders to keep businesses closed are unsustainable.

James Bullard, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, gestures while speaking at the 2019 Monetary and Financial Policy Conference at Bloomberg's European headquarters in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

Bullard said U.S. policy makers are facing too-low rates of inflation and the risk of a greater-than-expected slowdown, suggesting he’d favor an additional interest rate cut as insurance.

The decline will be “a staggering figure and way beyond anything experienced in the post-war era in the U.S.,” Bullard said to the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum. “We cannot hit the pause button for very long in major economies around the world, certainly not in the U.S. There’s a 90-day limit or shelf life on this policy, maybe 120 days shelf life.”

While shutting down the economy was appropriate in the early days as the U.S. managed the crisis, there now needs to be a shift to mitigating risks just as the country manages risks from terrorism or auto accidents, Bullard said.

“You will get too many business failures and really do lasting damage” without businesses resuming, he said. With a more focused approach, the U.S. could get a solid rebound that would be mathematically a record starting in the third quarter, he said.

Neel Kashkari, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, speaks during a presentation at the National Association for Business Economics economic policy conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 6, 2017. Kashkari spoke about the impact of banking regulation, and his "Minneapolis Plan" to end the too-big-to-fail problem among financial institutions.

Kashkari, in a virtual event, suggested any recovery will be slow with consumers and businesses continuing to be held back by health care concerns.

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