Fed’s Waller says bigger rate hike in March may be needed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said on Thursday he was prepared to support a half-point hike in interest rates at the next central bank meeting in March if upcoming data suggests 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.

After Russia invaded 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 generally increases borrowing costs for mortgages, credit cards, and other consumer and business loans, which slows 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 Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, on Thursday. Last Friday, 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.

On Monday, 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 start of the summer.

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

Harker, meanwhile, said on the Wharton Business Daily podcast on Thursday that the Fed should be careful not to raise rates too quickly.

“What we don’t want to do is hit the brakes too hard and then ruin what otherwise…is a relatively good economy,” he said.

But Harker didn’t completely shut the door on a half-point hike.

“If inflation really comes out at the next reading much higher than we expected, we don’t see any downward movement, I would be more open to that,” he said. “But right now, I’m not.”

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