By Ann Saphir
PLYMOUTH, Wisc., Oct 8 (Reuters) - Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans on Wednesday again urged the U.S. central bank to be "exceptionally patient" on raising rates, noting downside risks to both growth and inflation.
With longer-term inflation expectations falling near post-crisis lows, Evans said he was "concerned about the possibility that inflation will not return to our 2 percent target within a reasonable period of time."
That, coupled with continued slack in labor markets, argues for "being patient about when we first increase the federal funds rate and being patient about setting the pace of rate increases once we have begun to move," he said.
The Fed has kept interest rates near zero since December 2008 and has bought trillions of dollars of long-term securities to push borrowing costs still lower.
But with unemployment, at 5.9 percent last month, well down from its recession-era high, the Fed is planning to end its bond-buying stimulus later this month and most top Fed officials want to begin raising rates next year.
Not so Evans, who has previously said he prefers to wait to raise rates until 2016. On Wednesday morning, in an economic briefing sponsored by BMO Harris and Lakeland College, Evans reiterated his discomfort with calls for raising rates sooner than later. Rates should stay low, he said, even at the risk of inflation rising temporarily above the Fed's 2-percent target.
Evans rotates into a voting spot on the Fed's policy-setting panel next year.
Evans said he forecasts economic growth of 3 percent over the next 18 months, unemployment falling to 5 percent by the end of 2016, and inflation rising slowly back to 2 percent over the next three years. But downside risks to that forecast, including sluggish growth around the globe, remain, he said.
Even more important, he added, is the risk of raising rates too hastily, which could choke growth and force the Fed to backtrack.
"I believe that the biggest risk we face today is prematurely engineering restrictive monetary conditions," he said, according to prepared remarks.
(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)