‘Strong case for December interest-rate hike by US Fed’

Berkeley, November 22

There is a ‘strong case’ for raising interest rates when Federal Reserve policymakers meet next month, as long as US economic data does not disappoint, a top Fed official said on Saturday.

“The data I think have been overall encouraging, especially on the labour market,” San Francisco Fed President John Williams said after a conference at University of California Berkeley’s Clausen Centre.

“Assuming that we continue to get good data on economy, continue to get signs we’re moving closer to achieving our goals and gaining confidence getting back to two per cent inflation... If that continues to happen there’s a strong case to be made in December to raise rates.”

The Fed is widely seen increasing its benchmark overnight interest rate at its December 15-16 policy meeting, and debate is already shifting to the pace of rate hikes going forward.

Williams sought on Saturday to make clear that rate hikes would not only be gradual, but would not follow the stair-step pattern that characterised the Fed’s last policy-tightening cycle, when it raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point at every meeting.

“I do think the slope is the most important thing to communicate, the pace of increases,” he said, adding Fed’s quarterly economic forecasts will be critical in that regard, along with public comments from Fed officials and possible changes to Fed’s post-meeting statement.

“We definitely do not want to, either through our actions or our words, indicate a preference for a very mechanical path of interest rates, whether it’s every other meeting or however you think about it.”