Fed's Lockhart Says Global Markets Drop Won't Hurt U.S. Outlook

  • Atlanta Fed chief says his `bias' is for no January rate rise
  • Lockhart says recent data `mixed' and 4th quarter weak

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said he favors continued tightening of monetary policy this year, and a global selloff in stock markets is unlikely to affect the U.S. economy.

“When such volatility develops, I think it’s helpful to look at the real economy of the United States as opposed to the financial economy and ask if something is fundamentally wrong,” Lockhart said in a speech Monday in Atlanta. “Are there serious imbalances that make the broad economy vulnerable to foreign shocks? I don’t see that kind of connection in current circumstances. ”

Lockhart told reporters after his speech the persistence of turmoil such as what occurred starting in August might change that view.

“If the volatility continues for several weeks, I may have to revise my view that I don’t now see a connection between financial markets abroad and the real economy,” Lockhart said. “It is a matter of how long it lasts.”

Lockhart said his “bias” was for no policy change in January, adding there may be relatively little new information about inflation by the March meeting to influence a policy choice. The Federal Open Market Committee is scheduled to meet next on Jan. 26-27.

Additional Data

“March is a live meeting,” he said. “How much will we know about inflation trends or developments going into the mid-March meeting? We will have some new data but not a great deal more.”

Lockhart said he continues to see economic growth of 2 percent to 2.5 percent or more, pushing down the unemployment rate and helping raise inflation back toward the central bank’s 2 percent target.

The Fed last month raised rates for the first time since 2006 and said it expected the pace of future tightening to be gradual. Lockhart voted in favor of the the quarter percentage point increase in the target range for the benchmark federal funds rate that brought it to 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent.

“Recent economic data have been mixed, the fourth quarter may be disappointing, but in the same breath I would say mixed data do not undermine my basic forecast,” Lockhart said to the Rotary Club of Atlanta. “The hiring trend in our economy has been quite encouraging.”

Data Dependence

Lockhart said the exact path of rates would depend on the economic data, and inflation would be a “key factor.”

“I’d like to be more definitive in predicting future rates, but the degree of uncertainty -- particularly as regards global influences on our economy -- affirms the wisdom, in my opinion, of letting the economic data do the talking,” Lockhart said.

Policy makers in December projected the benchmark interest rate would end 2016 at 1.375 percent, implying four quarter-point increases in the target this year, based on the median from 17 officials.

Looking at the implementation of policy with a large Fed balance sheet, Lockhart told reporters that the use of overnight reverse repos as a policy tool was “not a permanent fixture but likely to be phased out as early as we can phase it out. The interest on excess reserves tool I would expect to be more of a permanent fixture in our tool bag.”

Lockhart has never dissented from a Fed policy decision. A former Georgetown University professor, Lockhart has led the Atlanta Fed since 2007. The district includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

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