Dudley sees Fed rate hikes; inflation weakness 'fading'

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve is on track to gradually raise interest rates given the recent inflation weakness is fading and the U.S. economy's fundamentals are sound, an influential Fed policymaker said on Monday, reinforcing the central bank's confident tone.

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New York Fed President William Dudley, among the first U.S. central bankers to speak publicly since a decision last week to hold rates steady for now, cited the soft dollar and strong overseas growth among the reasons he expects slightly above-average U.S. economic activity and a long-sought rise in wages.

"With a firmer import price trend and the fading of effects from a number of temporary, idiosyncratic factors, I expect inflation will rise and stabilize around the (Fed's) 2 percent objective over the medium term," he told students and professors at Onondaga Community College.

"In response, the Federal Reserve will likely continue to remove monetary policy accommodation gradually," added Dudley, a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen and a permanent voter on monetary policy.

Dudley's comments were similar to his speech earlier this month, and reinforced the growing expectation that the Fed is set to raise rates for a third time this year in December. That notion was driven home by Fed forecasts published last week, when the central bank held rates but announced the beginning of a long process of shedding bonds it accumulated to boost the economy.

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Still, others at the Fed are less anxious to tighten policy in the face of price readings that have sagged since February, despite strong jobs growth. Futures traders give a December rate hike about a 55-percent probability, according to Reuters data.

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Dudley nodded to the three devastating hurricanes that have struck parts of the U.S. south and the Caribbean, noting their effects will likely make it more difficult to interpret economic data in coming months. He said, though, that the effects would likely be short-lived and noted that such events tend to boost economic activity as rebuilding gets underway.

In a speech focused on workforce development, he said the Fed, which is tasked with achieving maximum sustainable employment, "cannot declare success if we have people who want to work but lack the skills to fill available jobs." Yet he noted that the Fed's tool kit is limited and best works to provide incentives for firms to invest and grow.

"There are greater incentives for businesses to invest in labor-saving technologies" and the labor market improves, he said. "Investment spending should also benefit from a better international outlook and improvement in U.S. trade competitiveness caused by the dollar's recent weakness."

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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