Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic said Thursday that he believes growth remains strong despite uncertainty over trade tensions, and he expects interest rates to continue to rise to a point where they neither stimulate nor slow the economy.
"When the economy is doing well and standing on its own, as it is now, I think monetary policy ought to be moving toward a neutral stance," Bostic said in a speech before the Mississippi Council on Economic Education "For me, this means a gradual increase in nominal interest rates over the next handful of quarters."
The central banker said he remains concerned about the uncertainty being created by President Donald Trump's confrontational and protectionist trade policy.
"An uncertain outlook can cause firms to delay investments while they wait to see how the situation unfolds. Such a development could grow to have macroeconomic ramifications the longer the uncertainty remains," Bostic said. He said a recent survey shows trade war fears have had "only a small negative effect on U.S. business investment so far." However, Bostic said the uncertainty appears concentrated in the investment-heavy manufacturing sector.
Bostic said the economic stimulus from recent corporate tax cuts has taken longer to filter through the economy than he'd expected, as businesses had to figure out how the complicated changes would affect them.
He says he thinks the drag from trade fears and the push from lower taxes are roughly balanced right now.
Bostic's occasional public speeches are sifted carefully by bankers and traders for hints on future Fed actions. He participates in the Federal Reserve's discussions on monetary policy such as setting interest rates or buying bonds, and is a voting member of the interest-rate setting Federal Open Market Committee.
The speech follows August's meeting of the committee, where members left the interest rate they charge other banks in the 1.75 percent to 2 percent range, saying the risks of inflation and unemployment were "balanced."
Traders expect two more interest rate increases before the end of the year. Bostic, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said he remains open to a second increase before the end of the year, depending on what data show. Bostic said he thought the neutral interest rate should be between 2.5 percent and 2.75 percent.
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