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Minneapolis Fed President: March rate hikes on the table

·Reporter
·3 min read
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A top central banker says the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates — for the first time since the pandemic began — in its next meeting in mid-March.

"Barring something unforeseen in the economy, my expectation is that the committee will likely move in the March meeting," said Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, on Yahoo Finance Live. "Where we go from there, we have to see based on the data."

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the members of the central bank’s policy-setting committee are “of a mind” to raise rates in its March 16 meeting.

Kashkari told Yahoo Finance Friday that rising inflationary pressures justified the need to raise short-term interest rates this year. Since the depths of the pandemic, the Fed held rates at near zero to stimulate borrowing. But rapid price increases have convinced Fed officials that the time is near for a withdrawal in those extraordinarily easy money policies.

On Friday morning the government released an update on its Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, a key reading of inflation. The core PCE Index showed prices rising by 4.85% on a year-over-year basis in December — highest since 1983.

"Inflation is higher than I expected and high inflation has lasted longer than I expected. We know the U.S. economy is recovering from the COVID shutdown and the downturn, but the recovery is uneven and demand has recovered more quickly than supply has," Kashkari said. "Given those facts it's not surprising that inflation is coming up higher than we expected. But it should normalize over the course of the year."

He added, "I would expect hopefully by mid year we'll see some indication that supply chains are starting to unwind and that we're starting to see some of these high prints of inflation start to roll off."

In its policy-setting meeting Wednesday, the Fed’s top officials voted to maintain rates at near zero while they bring their asset purchase program to a full stop. Since 2020, the Fed has been buying trillions in U.S. Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities, a process that will wrap up by mid-March.

After the first interest rate increases, the Fed will then turn its attention to actively shrinking the asset holdings on its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet. Powell said that the central bank will deliberate over the next “couple” of meetings on the timing and pace of any balance sheet reduction, which would likely involve allowing maturing assets to roll off of its books.

Kashkari said he doesn't have a "strong view" on how fast the balance sheet should be rolled off. "I think it depends on economic conditions."

Minneapolis Federal Reserve president Neel Kashkari participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Minneapolis Federal Reserve president Neel Kashkari participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

As one of 12 reserve bank presidents in the Federal Reserve system, Kashkari participates in all of the Fed’s policy-setting meetings. But he is not one of the four rotating presidents that have votes on policy actions this year.

Still, Kashkari’s commentary on the prospects of higher rates is notable because he has historically been one of the more “dovish” members of the committee — meaning he has tended to favor a slower path to normalizing policy.

Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the Fed, economics, and banking for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.

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