Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the central bank will probably raise interest rates in the second half of next year and the timing will depend on the pace of inflation.
“I do tend to think inflation’s going to pick up and that will be the reason why we ultimately raise rates,” Evans, who doesn’t vote on policy this year, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Betty Liu today in Hong Kong. “My own take is it’s most likely to be in the second half of 2015. If I had my druthers, I’d wait a little bit longer than that.”
Fed Chair Janet Yellen said at a press conference after a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee last week that the central bank may wait about six months after it concludes its monthly purchases of bonds before raising the main interest rate. Her comments, along with Fed officials’ revised forecasts for faster tightening than previously expected, pushed up yields on U.S. Treasuries.
“It’s going to be at least six months, in my opinion,” Evans said in the interview before a speech at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.
Evans told reporters afterward that he would wait until early 2016 to raise interest rates and that he expects a federal funds rate of 1.25 percent at the end of that year. The timing of the first increase isn’t as important as understanding the path, and the Fed doesn’t necessarily need to raise rates at every meeting, with increases depending on the economy and inflation, Evans said.
“Is it going to be a sharp increase or is it going to be a more shallow increase?” he said in the interview. “We expect it to be a shallower path of increases.”
Evans’ colleagues have also weighed in on Yellen’s March 19 remarks. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said six months “is really a minimum, not a maximum,” while James Bullard of St. Louis said the timing isn’t so different from investor expectations.
In the speech, Evans said that the “current 1 percent inflation situation calls for extended policy accommodation” and that he’s “concerned that inflation will not pick up quickly enough.” Responding to questions after the speech, Evans said he doubts rates will rise before mid-2015.
The FOMC last week scrapped a pledge to keep zero rates as long as unemployment exceeds 6.5 percent, saying instead that policy makers will look at a wide range of data. Unemployment climbed to 6.7 percent in February from a five-year low of 6.6 percent the prior month.
The Minneapolis Fed’s Narayana Kocherlakota, who dissented from the decision, said on March 21 that the Fed should have lowered the jobless-rate threshold instead of discarding the guidance altogether. Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, also a FOMC voting member this year, said March 25 that officials should adopt a more rule-based approach to policy.
Evans said today that he’s “quite sympathetic” to Kocherlakota’s view that the Fed could keep zero rates with unemployment as low as 5.5 percent.
Speaking about the U.S. economic outlook, Evans said that “conditions are looking pretty good right now.”
“Except for a weak first quarter in the U.S. due to weather conditions, I’m looking for a run rate of about 3 percent the rest of the year and into 2015,” Evans said in the interview. “I think that that will be a much better state of growth that will lead to more employment growth and more customers walking through the door.”
First-quarter growth will probably be below 2 percent because of the weather, Evans said to reporters.
Evans in recent years has played a central role in FOMC deliberations. He was the first Fed official to propose a link between policy and numerical economic thresholds.
The Chicago Fed chief was also an early proponent for the current round of asset purchases, which since starting in September 2012 have pumped up the central bank’s balance sheet to a record $4.23 trillion. The FOMC last week announced a trim to the monthly bond-buying to $55 billion.
Data released since the Fed meeting have indicated the economy is steadily improving. Consumer confidence rose to a six-year high in March, the Conference Board’s index showed this week, while jobless claims last week dropped to an almost four-month low.