Fed says bigger rate hike may be needed

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said Thursday he was willing to back a half-point interest rate hike at the bank’s next meeting. central in March if forthcoming data suggest that inflation is deteriorating.

Waller’s comments, in a speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara, underscore the diversity of opinions among Fed officials on its next steps.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early Thursday, many economists and investors believed a half-point rate hike was much less likely at the March meeting. But Waller said only that the impact of the invasion on the US economy “remains to be seen”.

The Fed is looking to raise its benchmark short-term interest rate as inflation jumped to 7.5% in January from a year earlier, the biggest increase in four decades. A higher rate typically drives up borrowing costs for mortgages, credit cards and other consumer and business loans, slowing growth and rising prices.

The debate over how quickly to raise interest rates is being watched closely by financial markets and could also have an impact on the broader economy. If the Fed raises rates too slowly, inflation could stay high and become harder to control. But if it raises borrowing costs too quickly, it could choke the economy and cause a recession.

Some analysts said Fed officials wanted to retain some flexibility on the size of an almost certain rate hike ahead of their March 15-16 meeting. The next consumer price report will be released on March 10, during the Fed’s “ban period,” when officials stop speaking publicly before a meeting. Some Fed policymakers want to keep a half-point hike on the table in case this report shows inflation accelerating.

Other Fed officials have pushed back on a bigger hike in recent days, including Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Patrick Harker on Thursday. Last week, New York Fed President John Williams and Fed Governor Lael Brainard approved a series of quarter-point hikes starting in March. Williams and Brainard are close to President Jerome Powell.

However, Fed Governor Michelle Bowman said she was willing to support a half-point rate hike in March if economic data suggested it was needed. And St Louis Fed President James Bullard has expressed support for a half-point hike.

Waller, who worked at the St Louis Fed for Bullard before being appointed to the Fed’s board, said he would like to see the Fed’s benchmark rate, now between zero and 0.25 %, increased within a range of 1% to 1.25%. at the beginning of summer.

That could be accomplished with a quarter-point hike in each of the next four Fed meetings, Waller said. But while upcoming inflation and employment reports show few signs of the economy slowing, “a strong case can be made” for a 0.5 percentage point increase in March, it said. -he adds.

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