Reuters: Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday continued to flag December as a likely time for interest rates to rise after seven years near zero, with two expressing confidence they will be able to pull off a rate hike smoothly despite fears of an abrupt market reaction.
Investors reacted by increasing the odds for a rate increase next month to 72%, from 64% on Tuesday, based on interest rate futures prices.
Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester repeated her position that the U.S. economy is now strong enough to absorb a modest policy tightening. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, sitting alongside her on a panel in New York, said global financial markets have settled since the August turmoil that caused the U.S. central bank to delay raising rates.
“I am now reasonably satisfied the situation has settled down ... So I am comfortable with moving off zero soon, conditioned on no marked deterioration in economic conditions,” Lockhart told a conference of bankers, traders and regulators.
“I believe it will soon be appropriate to begin a new policy phase,” he said, adding he will monitor economic data between now and a meeting on Dec. 15-16, for which he has a vote on policy. Mester regains a vote next year under a rotation.
Sentiment for a December hike took firm hold at the Fed’s October 27-28 policy meeting, according to meeting minutes released on Wednesday that showed a solid core of U.S. central bankers poised for liftoff.
The Fed’s October statement helped convince skeptical markets that a rate hike may finally be imminent after several years of near zero rates. But the October session also saw central bankers begin grappling with longer-term issues that may be relevant to the pace of subsequent rate hikes, including whether the U.S. economy’s lower long-term potential means low interest rates will become a permanent norm.
For now, however, Fed officials seem confident that the central bank will meet its twin goals of full employment and stable two percent inflation.
Rob Kaplan, the Fed’s newest policymaker, declined to use his first public appearance as president of the Dallas Fed to comment directly on the timing of a rate hike, but expressed confidence that inflation will rise back to the Fed’s goal over the medium term. The Fed has said it needs exactly that confidence before raising rates.
Once rate hikes start, he said, the Fed will reassess conditions at each meeting and will pause further rate hikes if needed.
The comments were the latest in a string of communications from Fed officials meant to prepare global markets for the first U.S. rate hike in nearly a decade. The policy change is expected to continue pushing the U.S. dollar higher, pulling capital from emerging markets and elsewhere towards rising U.S. rates.