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Fed's Williams urges US central bank to stay on track with rate rises

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 - 20:48

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The US economy remains on track for a gradual path of interest rate hikes and fears over the impact of a slowing global economy and bouts of financial volatility are overdone, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Tuesday.

[SINGAPORE] The US economy remains on track for a gradual path of interest rate hikes and fears over the impact of a slowing global economy and bouts of financial volatility are overdone, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Tuesday.

"Others' economic fates do not spell our own," Williams said in a speech at the National University of Singapore on a trip to Asia. "My view is essentially, let's just stay on track. Let's not get sidelined by the noise and distraction commentary can sometimes cause."

The US central bank left interest rates unchanged two weeks ago and signaled its cautiousness by forecasting two further rate hikes this year, down from four at its December meeting, when the Fed raised rates from near zero for the first time in almost a decade.

But Williams, who has been consistent in providing a more upbeat assessment of the US economy over the past few months, said he expects the unemployment rate to fall to about 4.5 per cent by late 2016 and for inflation to return to the Fed's 2 per cent target over the next two years.

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"We're not quite where I'd like us to be, but recent developments have been very encouraging and add to my confidence that we're on course to reach our (inflation) goal," he said, citing an uptick in oil prices and a stabilizing dollar.

Overall, the US economy "keeps chugging ahead," he said.

Asked about the inflation outlook, Williams said there were some encouraging signs in core inflation data. "The last few months have actually been looking really good on CPI and PCE prices and I do want that to continue," he said during an audience Q&A session.

"If it continues for the next few months, I will be pushing forward my inflation forecasts," Williams said. "There is some upside risk that we'll hit our inflation target sooner."

On the global front, where some of his colleagues argue that the United States cannot uncouple itself from international economic and financial developments, Williams stressed that forecasts for global economic growth are far from dire.

The International Monetary Fund predicts about 3.5 per cent global GDP growth this year, down only one-half per centage point from a year ago, he said. "I don't see a looming global crisis," Williams said, adding that he continues to think China will avoid a hard landing.

Two Fed policymakers signaled last week that another rate increase could come as early as the Fed's next meeting on April 26-27.

However, lackluster consumer spending and inflation data on Monday curbed investor bets on when the next rate rise will be.

If the US economy performs as well as it did last year, it will be able to handle steady interest rate increases in 2016, Williams said. "If we have inflation moving clearly towards 2 per cent, if the US economy continues to improve the way it did last year...I think the economy could easily handle two or more (rate) increases this year," he told reporters.

US interest rate futures currently suggest traders see a 12 per cent chance of a rate hike next month, according to CME Group's FedWatch.

As the global economy improves and policies normalise, there could be pretty large moves in long-term bond yields over the next several years, Williams said.

US 10-year Treasury yields, now near 1.9 per cent, could eventually head up to around 4 per cent to 4.5 per cent, he said, adding that this could have an effect on asset prices in general.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen may offer more hints on the central bank's latest thinking when she speaks in New York later on Tuesday at 12:20 EDT/1620 GMT.

Williams is not a voting member of Fed's rate-setting committee this year but participates in deliberations.

REUTERS

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