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Fed's Kaplan warns on 'imbalances,' wants to talk taper

FILE PHOTO: Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan speaks during an interview in his office at the bank's headquarters in Dallas

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) - Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan on Friday called for beginning the conversation about reducing central bank support for the economy, warning of imbalances in financial markets and arguing the economy is healing faster than expected.

"We are now at a point where I'm observing excesses and imbalances in financial markets," Kaplan told the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce in a virtual appearance in front of a live audience, pointing to "historically" elevated stock prices, tight credit spreads, and surging house prices.

"I do think, at the earliest opportunity, I think it would be appropriate for us to start talking about adjusting those purchases," referring to the Fed's $120 billion in monthly bond buys that, along with near-zero interest rates, are aimed at keeping financial conditions super-easy and bolstering the recovery.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell earlier this week reiterated his view that it is too early to even talk about potentially tapering the Fed's pace of bond buying, saying the economy, though growing fast, is a "long way" from the Fed's goals of full employment and 2% inflation, and still needs the central bank's all-out support

Kaplan on Friday staked out a different view. He reiterated his expectation that the Fed will need to start raising interest rates next year, more than a year earlier than most of his Fed colleagues anticipate.

The Fed has promised to keep up its current pace of bond buying until the economy makes "further substantial progress" on its two goals.

Kaplan said Friday he now expects to reach the Fed's hurdle for beginning to reduce bond buys sooner than he had thought even just a few months ago. There is "upside" risk to his own forecast of 6.5% U.S. GDP growth this year, he said, also predicting unemployment, now at 6%, will fall to 4% by year's end.

The U.S. government reported Thursday that the economy grew at an annualized 6.4% pace in the first quarter; it will provide a readout for April's unemployment rate next Friday.

On inflation, Kaplan, like Powell and other Fed policymakers, said he expects inflation to surge in coming months simply in comparison to last year's very weak readings amid nationwide lockdowns. He predicted readings of 2.75% or more. Some of that pop will recede in the fourth quarter, he said, but he did not characterize inflation's rise as "transitory" as Powell has done.

"Some of these base effects will go away, but that's not to say that there aren't still strains," he said, pointing to an expected surge in consumer spending, supply shortages, rising materials costs, labor shortages, and fiscal spending.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)