Despite a series of increases, the key US interest rate remains low and the central bank is likely to raise it further, but gradually, a top Federal Reserve official said Monday.
Financial markets have been roiled in recent weeks amid contrary comments from Fed officials interpreted as either a sign rates would have to move much higher or a signal the Fed will take a break.
New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams was reluctant to wade into the debate but said the benchmark lending rate was ‘still low’ even after three increases this year.
‘We’ll be likely raising interest rates somewhat but it’s really in the context of a very strong economy,’ Williams said in response to a question from AFP at a community event.
‘We’ve been doing the best we can to find a gradual path of getting monetary policy back to more normal level of interest rates.’
Williams is the vice chairman of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, which has consistently said continued gradual interest rate increases will allow the US economy to continue to expand while keeping inflation under wraps.
But there have been some mixed signals from officials, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell who alternately in recent weeks has made a comment indicating the Fed had many moves ahead, and more recently that the central bank will move cautiously and watch the signs in economic data.
Economists have wavered between expecting four rate increases next year to predicting the Fed will pause, though another increases is almost unanimously expected in December.
Williams stressed the Fed was ‘not on preset course,’ and will adjust policy as needed.
‘Our goal here is to keep the economy strong, keep this expansion going as long as possible,’ he said during a discussion at the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
He noted that the Fed was ‘in a great position,’ with very low unemployment and inflation.
The conditions are ideal for communities focusing on improving training and workforce development to get more people into jobs, since employers almost universally are having troubling filling open positions, Williams said.
Wall Street was down sharply in midday trade but stocks appeared more moved by housing market released earlier which showed a plunge in homebuilder sentiment and weakness in tech giant Apple.