Fed officials call March rate hike 'appropriate' with inflation high, banks resilient

·4 min read

Two Federal Reserve officials said Thursday the Federal Reserve's decision last week to raise interest rates by another 0.25% was necessary because inflation remains too high.

Boston Fed President Susan Collins said raising interest rates by another 0.25% was "appropriate" amid elevated inflation and uncertainty around lasting impacts from the bank crisis.

"While recognizing the heightened uncertainty, I believe staying the course with a one-quarter-percent increase in the policy rate at last week's FOMC meeting was appropriate," Collins said in a speech in Washington at the NABE Economic Policy Conference.

Collins also said she anticipates raising rates another 25 basis points from the current range of 4.75%-5% to a new range of 5%-5.25% — in line with the median forecast from Fed officials — and holding there through the end of the year. She said she was planning to increase her forecast for how high rates needed to be raised to be "sufficiently tight," but that the banking issues offset some of that.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin said in a separate speech on Thursday he wanted to raise rates 0.25%, given the banking system appeared "resilient" at the time, while also noting inflation is too high.

"I saw substantial inflationary pressure and a resilient banking system," Barkin said in a speech in Richmond.

Barkin also suggested he wanted to avoid a situation like the experience of the 1970s.

"If you back off on inflation too soon, inflation comes back stronger, requiring the Fed to do even more, with even more damage," Barkin said. "With inflation high, broad based and persistent, I didn’t want to take that risk."

Neither Barkin nor Collins are currently voting members of the FOMC, the Fed Committee that votes on policy changes.

Boston, MA - September 26: During a Q&A, Susan Collins, the new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, gave her first public speech. The event was sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Susan Collins, new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, during her first public speech. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Collins said recent bank failures could cause banks to hand out fewer loans, offsetting the need for more rate hikes, echoing the view set forth by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell in a press conference last week.

"Recent financial sector stress has added to this challenge by increasing the uncertainty around appropriate monetary policy," Collins said. "While the banking system remains strong and resilient, recent developments will likely lead banks to take a somewhat more conservative outlook and tighten lending standards, thus contributing to slowing the economy and reducing inflationary pressures. These developments may partially offset the need for additional rate increases."

Collins also echoed Powell and other officials' comments that underscored the banking system remains "strong and resilient, with well-capitalized institutions and ample liquidity."

"The Federal Reserve continues to monitor financial conditions closely, and is prepared to use all tools at its disposal in keeping the banking system safe and sound," Collins said.

Barkin noted it remains too early to know whether banks will tighten credit, slowing down consumer spending and business investment or not.

He said the Fed will need to be "nimble," noting if inflation continues the central bank can raise rates further.

"Most forecasts of our policy path seem to average the risk of higher inflation with the risk of further contagion in banking," he said. "I still see the range of potential outcomes as pretty wide. If inflation persists, we can react by raising rates further…And if I am wrong about the pricing dynamics at play, or about credit conditions, then we can respond appropriately."

Collins said recent data underscores the need for the Fed to do more in bringing inflation down to its 2% target. Collins said recent data showed signs of more underlying strength in the economy than anticipated, with strong job growth and stronger-than-expected spending in February.

The latest consumer price index showed consumer prices rose 6% over the prior year in February, the slowest year-over-year increase since late 2021.

"This strength might reflect the fact that policy did not enter fully restrictive territory until the second half of 2022, and it may be too soon to see its full effects on real activity," Collins said.

"While we may be seeing some initial signs of wage moderation, more will be needed for a sustained improvement in price inflation," she said.

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