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Fed doves' ranks may be growing, possibly pushing hike into 2016
[SAN FRANCISCO] Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen insisted only two weeks ago that the US economy remained on a path that would allow the central bank to raise rates in 2015 for the first time in nine years.
Now however, some of her colleagues are suggesting it might be better to wait until late this year or even 2016, citing concerns about the international economic outlook and US consumers' reluctance to open their wallets.
Those concerns will be back in focus on Friday when May job numbers are due. The figures are expected to show a 225,000 gain in employment, broadly in line with recent averages, but a disappointing reading could strengthen the dovish camp.
Lael Brainard, a voting member of the Federal Open Markets Committee, signalled this week that it may be prudent to delay a rate rise. She was followed on Thursday by Daniel Tarullo, another voting member, who said data this year had so far failed to show a rebound from the first quarter. "We get another job number tomorrow, but I think in a broader sense, there are more questions at this point in 2015 than at this point in 2014," Mr Tarullo said.
Long-time dove Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed suggested he might push his preferred timing for a first rate rise into the second half of 2016 from early next year, matching the view of his colleague, Narayana Kocherlakota at the Minneapolis Fed.
While Ms Brainard, who has been on the Fed board for a year, did not rule out a move this year, she warned of the possibility of a "more significant drag on the economy" from weaker exports and weak manufacturing.
Back in March, Ms Brainard projected a 2015 rate hike, along with 14 other Fed policymakers. Fourteen of 17 Fed policymakers at that time expected at least two rate increases this year, a summary chart of their forecasts shows.
Two hikes this year would now appear to be less likely, particularly if the June meeting at which new projections are released passes, as now expected, without a rate rise.
Another policymaker who had penciled in at least one hike in 2015, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, also struck strongly dovish notes earlier this week. Rosengren warned that not enough progress had been made on the jobs front or on pushing inflation towards the Fed's two percent goal.
Both Mr Rosengren and Ms Brainard also worried that weak consumer spending could augur a more lasting slowdown in growth than earlier thought. The latest data, released on June 1 after Ms Yellen's most recent speech, showed spending unexpectedly stalled in April as consumers saved more.
Even St Louis Fed President James Bullard, typically one of the Fed's more hawkish officials, suggested on Wednesday that weaker-than-expected retail sales had raised some doubts about the strength of the recovery, though he still supported a hike in 2015.
Ms Brainard or Mr Rosengren could shift their projections for a rate hike to 2016 when the Fed releases its rate decision on June, according to JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli.
While that would still leave a solid majority expecting rate hikes to start in 2015, more of those Fed officials may favor just one cautious move.
Bank of the West chief economist Scott Anderson, like most economists, still believes the first rate hike will take place in September, but "the next rate hike might not happen until January 2016," he said.
To TD Securities strategist Millan Mulraine, a strong payroll report on Friday will do little to change the Fed's dial, currently set to two rate hikes this year, starting in September.
Still, "a weak print will feed into the current concerns and push the Fed further away from near-term hikes," he said.