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Fed's Evans, citing low inflation, wants no rate hikes until 2016

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - 22:32

[LAKE FOREST] The Federal Reserve should wait until the first half of 2016 before raising interest rates, a top U.S. central banker said on Wednesday, or risk undermining the very recovery it has helped engineer.

"Given uncomfortably low inflation and an uncertain global environment, there are few benefits and significant risks to increasing interest rates prematurely," Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary Club.

"I think we should be patient in raising interest rates."

Even if the Fed keeps rates at their near-zero level until next year, he said, inflation probably won't reach the Fed's 2-per cent goal until the end of 2018. And if his forecast proves wrong and the economy begins to run too hot too fast, he said, the Fed would have "ample time" to raise rates moderately to head off excessively high inflation.

Mr Evans, a voting member this year on the Fed's policy-setting panel, stands nearly alone at the central bank in calling for rates to stay near zero for another year or so. Many of his colleagues have said they are open to, if not eager for, rate hikes to begin as soon as June.

For his part, Mr Evans expects the US economy to grow at a 3-per cent pace over the next couple of years, generating job gains of over 200,000 a month for some time.

But that is not enough to justify raising rates, he said. Unemployment, at 5.7 per cent, is still above the 5 per cent he now believes is sustainable for the economy in the longer run.

More importantly, the Fed's core gauge of inflation is at just 1.3 per cent, and inflation expectations based on prices in Treasury markets have fallen dramatically.

Before raising rates, he said, he would like to see not only a rise in core inflation and in market-based inflation expectations, but also a rise in wages, now averaging around 2 per cent a year, to between 3 and 4 per cent.

REUTERS