Fed’s Williams in ‘Wait and See Mode’ on Interest-Rate Increases

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President John Williams said the U.S. central bank could decide to begin raising interest rates at any policy meeting, and that he is in “wait and see mode” headed into the next gathering in June.

Additional economic data to be released between now and the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee’s June 16-17 meeting “should paint a more complete picture than we have now,” Williams said Tuesday in the text of a speech in New York. “Either way, there’s no pressure to decide on the future path of policy today, so I am in ‘wait and see mode,’ with a keen eye on the data.”

Williams is a voting member of the FOMC this year.

The Fed has said it will raise its benchmark federal funds rate -- which has been near zero since December 2008 -- when it sees further labor-market improvement and is “reasonably confident” inflation will rise back to its 2 percent goal over time. Most economists in a Bloomberg survey late last month predicted the central bank will start tightening in September.

Incoming data “may push us a little in one direction or the other, and there will be a lot of discussion and debate” about when to begin, Williams said. “The decision to raise rates is actually three decisions: Not just when, but how quickly and how high. I see a safer course in a gradual increase, and that calls for starting a bit earlier.”

The San Francisco Fed chief played down weak economic growth in the first quarter, citing transitory factors including harsh winter weather and a slowdown at West Coast ports caused by labor disputes. The economy expanded at a 0.2 percent annualized pace in the January-March period, down from 2.2 percent in the previous three months, according to initial estimates from the U.S. government.

“With that in mind, and looking at the past several years, I expect that 2015 will match the pattern that’s emerged: After a disappointing first quarter, we should see above-trend growth for the rest of the year,” Williams said.

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