Header Image

CPD In the News

| Building a National Campaign for a Strong Economy: Fed Up

Fed Officials Say a September Rate Increase Is Still on the Table

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The Federal Reservewill give serious consideration to raising its benchmark interest rate in mid-September, particularly if volatility subsides in financial markets, a number of Fed officials said Friday.

The comments, uncoordinated but generally consistent, suggested that some investors and analysts had been too quick to discount a September rate increase, particularly as global markets finished the week on a relatively quiet note on Friday.

“We haven’t made a decision yet, and I don’t think we should,” Stanley Fischer, the Fed’s vice chairman and a close adviser to the Fed chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, said in an interview with the cable network CNBC. “We’ve got time to wait and see the incoming data and see what exactly is going on now in the economy.”

The Fed’s policy-making committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 16 and 17.



Mr. Fischer offered an upbeat assessment of the domestic economy. He described job growth as “impressive” and said there had been a “pretty strong case” to raise rates in September before the latest round of global turmoil. He did not sound inclined to wait much longer than September to start raising rates.

“We’re getting back to normal and at some point we will want to show that, by beginning to normalize interest rates,” he said, speaking during a break at the annual conference hosted here by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and a centrist on the Federal Open Market Committee, told Bloomberg that he saw roughly even odds of a September rate increase. But if the Fed did choose to wait, he said it wouldn’t be for long — he suggested that it could raise rates at its next meeting in October.

James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said in an interview that he was reserving final judgment, but that he did not see strong reasons for the Fed to delay. “I would like to see the whole panoply of data before I make a decision but I’m certainly leaning in that direction,” Mr. Bullard said.

The march toward higher rates has inflamed some critics who argue that the central bank should continue or even expand its stimulus campaign.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, said Thursday that the Fed was on the verge of repeating an old mistake by raising interest rates sooner than necessary to control inflation. He pointed out that the share of Americans with jobs remained unusually small and wages were rising only slowly.

“There hasn’t been a recovery for the majority of Americans and so to me this is a no-brainer,” Mr. Stiglitz told a coalition of community groups who call themselves “Fed Up” that met just outside the main conference to advocate against a rate increase. “I don’t even know why we’re talking about” tightening monetary policy, he said.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation was updated on Friday. The new data showed that prices rose just 0.3 percent during the 12 months that ended in July. A narrower measure excluding food and oil prices, which the Fed regards as more predictive, increased by 1.2 percent over that period. The Fed aims to maintain inflation at a 2 percent annual pace, a goal it has not achieved for several years.

Mr. Stiglitz said the Fed should try to keep inflation at about 4 percent a year. Even with a stated target of 2 percent a year, he said, actual inflation is significantly lower. “We wind up with a monetary policy that has been consistently too tight,” he said.

Most Fed officials say they expect inflation to increase as the economy expands. Mr. Fischer said on Friday that his confidence was “pretty high” that inflation would rebound.

Still, Mr. Fischer said there was a continuing “discussion” among Fed officials, some of whom see the strength of domestic growth as a reason to raise rates, while others argue the sluggishness of inflation means there is no reason to rush.

Mr. Bullard, a member of the first camp, said that he viewed recent global economic developments as unlikely to change his economic forecast. The sharp fall of oil prices and the decline of long-term interest rates should increase growth, while a stronger dollar and a weaker global economy are likely to have an offsetting impact.

“I want to take the time I have between now and the September meeting to evaluate all the economic information that’s come in, including recent volatility in markets and the reasons behind that,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, told The Wall Street Journal. “But it hasn’t so far changed my basic outlook that the U.S. economy is solid and it could support an increase in interest rates.”

Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, reiterated his contrasting view that the Fed should not raise interest rates this year. Instead, he argued, the central bank should consider expanding its stimulus campaign to address the persistence of low inflation, which can harm consumer spending and business plans for expansion. Mr. Kocherlakota said the volatility of financial markets should be seen as further evidence of the weakness of the economy.

Both camps, however, agree that the Fed should not start raising rates in the middle of market volatility. William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said this week that the gyrations of financial markets made the case for raising rates in September “less compelling.”

Mr. Fischer in his interview Friday said he did not want to judge the current situation, because it was new. But if volatility persisted, the Fed would be less likely to move.

“If you don’t understand the market volatility, and I’m sure we don’t fully understand it now — there are many, many analyses of what’s going on — then yes, it does affect the timing of a decision you might want to make,” he said.

Both Mr. Dudley and Mr. Fischer, however, noted that the current situation might be fleeting. Mr. Fischer said markets “could settle down fairly quickly.”

And Mr. Fischer emphasized that Fed officials could not afford to wait until all of their questions were answered and all of their doubts resolved. “When the case is overwhelming,” he said, “if you wait that long, then you’ve waited too long.”

Source: New York Times