Fed's Bullard says recent U.S. data 'encouraging'

Recent U.S. jobs and inflation data were "encouraging" and a sign that the economy may be nearing a more normal phase, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said on Friday.

Though he said the housing and labor markets remain weak, he expects recovery through the rest of the year, and said inflation would likely move towards the Fed's desired 2 percent rate.

Should inflation take off faster than expected, the Fed's policy committee was prepared "to get more aggressive," Bullard told reporters after a speech.

He said he personally expects interest rates to be increased by the end of the first quarter of next year, ahead of where investors have set their expectations.

(Reporting By Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)