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Lone Fed hike dissenter Neel Kashkari: We shouldn't fix what's not broken

Matthew J. Belvedere

The lone Fed dissenter against its latest interest rate hike told CNBC on Monday he voted no because inflation is still below the central bank's 2 percent target and the labor market keeps improving.

"Why do anything?" asked Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari during an interview on " Squawk Box ."

Inflation has "a lot of room" to rise to the Fed's target, and it can even rise a little above 2 percent without creating worries about an overheated economy, he said. "For the last five or six years, the Federal Reserve keeps predicting inflation is around the corner. And those predictions end up being wrong."

Since the Fed's January meeting, core inflation has been moving "sideways," remaining around 1.7 percent, said Kashkari, a voting member this year on the central bank's policymaking committee. In the post-meeting economic summary last week, the Fed said it sees a slight uptick in inflation this year to 1.9 percent, with a longer-term trend toward the central bank's 2 percent target.

"The unemployment rate has been stuck around 4.7 percent. That's because labor force participation keeps climbing. That's a really good thing. Americans are re-entering the workforce or staying in," Kashkari said. He advocated a wait-and-see approach to allow the job market to "keep healing, allow wages to keep creeping up."

The widely anticipated Fed hike last week, only the third in nearly 11 years, took the overnight fed funds rate to a target range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent. The move represents the first of what central bankers see as a total of three rate increases for 2017, a projection that did not change after last week's meeting.

"When the data do call for removing some monetary accommodation, my preference would be that we ... articulate a plan of exactly how and when we're going to roll off the balance sheet," Kashkari said. "Then we allow the markets to react to that plan."

The Fed has amassed a balance sheet of $4.5 trillion through several rounds of quantitative easing bond-buying and other accomodative moves aimed at boosting the economy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

"As we move forward, we allow the balance sheet to start running off. Then we can return to fed funds rate hikes when the data call for it," Kashkari said. "The balance sheet should be the next move."

The next two-day Fed gathering is in May, but there's no scheduled post-meeting news conference by Fed Chair Janet Yellen until June.

Kashkari, who unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for governor of California in 2014, was the administrator of the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program during the 2008 financial crisis. After leaving Washington, he joined bond giant Pimco as a managing director and head of global equities. Before his time at Treasury, Kashkari was a vice president at Goldman Sachs.




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