Ultra-low rates still appropriate: Fed's Lockhart

By Pedro Nicolaci da Costa

FT. MYERS, Florida (Reuters) - The economic recovery is on solid ground but there are still enough sources of weakness to justify keeping interest rates very low, Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart said on Friday.

At the same time, overall inflation remains well under control despite recent increases in food and energy prices, Lockhart said.

"I remain satisfied that the current stance of monetary policy is appropriately calibrated to the current and projected state of the economy," Lockhart told the Bonita/Estero Market Pulse Conference.

The remarks suggested Lockhart and his colleagues at the Fed plan to continue their program of $600 billion in government bond purchases through to its June deadline, but have no plans to extend the program beyond that.

The policy has proved controversial politically, with many Republicans accusing the U.S. central bank of sowing the seeds of future inflation.

Lockhart fought back against the notion that Fed officials exclude inconveniently high costs such as food and energy from their policy calculus.

"Contrary to popular opinion, Federal Reserve officials do actually eat and fill up their gas tanks," Lockhart said.

He said he does not expect a recent uptick in inflation to persist.

Lockhart said the U.S. job market has been making gradual strides, but argued that the steep recent drop in the jobless rate -- to 8.9 percent in March from 9.8 percent in November -- was not all good news.

"(It) involved many people leaving the workforce, presumably because they were discouraged," Lockhart said.