Federal Reserve official addresses interest rate speculation

by Vernon Clement Jones26 Aug 2015
The likelihood of the Fed moving to raise its benchmark rate next month for the first time in 10 years seems “less compelling,” said one Reserve official Wednesday.

It’s by no means proof-positive of a delay, but  New York Fed President William Dudley said the prospect of a September rate hike "seems less compelling" than it was only weeks ago.

Dudley, a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen, however left the door open to raising rates for the first time in nearly a decade when the U.S. central bank holds a policy meeting Sept. 16-17.

The global selloff, brought on by weak Chinese economic data, threatens to crimp global growth and create financial conditions unsuitable for a initial policy tightening in the United States, he said.

"At this moment, the decision to begin the normalization process at the September FOMC meeting seems less compelling to me than it was a few weeks ago," Dudley told reporters at the New York Fed, of the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee. 

But an initial rate hike "could become more compelling by the time of the meeting as we get additional information on how the U.S. economy is performing and (on) international financial market developments, all of which are important to shaping the U.S. economic outlook," he said.

Market turmoil in recent days, including steep stock sell-offs in Asia, Europe and the United States, has called into question the Fed's plans to raise rates possibly as soon as next month. Investors and economists have pushed out their expectations for the Fed to move in December or next year, citing the rising dollar and falling oil prices.

The comments, which lifted the dollar and U.S. Treasury bond prices, come a day before many of the world's top central bankers gather at an annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to which investors will look for clues on how the turmoil could rattle monetary policy plans.

Dudley's comments were unprompted and made at a briefing on the regional economy, suggesting they were a deliberate message from the broader Federal Reserve.

He said he wanted to see more U.S. economic data, and also how markets behave in coming weeks, before making a final judgment on the timing of policy tightening.

"International developments have increased the downside risks to U.S. economic growth somewhat," he said, with China's slowdown and falling commodity prices straining emerging markets and raising the possibility of slower global growth and less demand for U.S. goods and services.

The volatility has tightened financial conditions and widened credit spreads, he said, adding inflation remains "well below" the Fed's 2 percent target due to falling oil prices and the strength of the dollar, "which we expect to be transitory."

"It's important not to overreact to short-term market developments because it's unclear whether this will just be a temporary adjustment or something more persistent that will have implications for U.S. growth and the inflation outlook," Dudley said.

Files by Reuters