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Fed’s Bullard Says Next Interest Rate Hike `May Not Be Far Off’

By Steve Matthews

(Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said the U.S. central bank could be getting close to raising interest rates again, after it opted to take a pass on a rate hike last week.

“The relatively minor downgrades contained in the March SEP suggest that the next rate increase may not be far off provided that the economy evolves as expected,” Bullard said in a speech in New York on Thursday, referring to Fed officials’ quarterly forecasts, known as the Summary of Economic Projections.

Fed officials are discussing how quickly they should raise rates a second time following their move in December that delivered the first increase in nearly a decade.

Bullard, in a Bloomberg News interview Wednesday, said policy makers should consider an April hike in reaction to a tightening labor market and the prospect of inflation overshooting the Fed’s 2 percent target, while adding that officials may not have received enough additional data on the U.S. economy by then to persuade them to make a move.

Bullard in his speech said the outlook for U.S. and global growth was “downgraded somewhat” from December, while “the outlook for the U.S. labor market was upgraded somewhat” in the forecasts. Other variables were left about the same, he said. Bullard is a Fed policy voter this year.

Bullard supported the Federal Open Market Committee decision last week to hold off from raising interest rates, while FOMC participants scaled back projections for increases this year. The median of policy makers’ updated quarterly projections saw the rate at 0.875 percent at the end of 2016, implying two quarter-point increases this year, down from four moves forecast in December.

“Not following through on a proposed action can damage a policy maker’s credibility,” in the absence of a change in data or the outlook, Bullard said.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, San Francisco Fed leader John Williams and Philadelphia’s Patrick Harker have all this week called for continued tightening, raising April and June as possible dates for another step.



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