Fed in 'real debate' on rate hike in early to mid-2015: Lockhart

Sat Aug 23, 2014 11:41am EDT
 
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By Howard Schneider

JACKSON HOLE Wyo. (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve is focused on an initial interest rate hike between the first quarter and the middle of next year, with possible changes in its main policy statement as soon as next month, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said on Saturday.

"It is reasonable with the improving data to begin to anticipate a change in the basic interest rate policy and, therefore, it is quite a reasonable debate as to whether that ought to be early 2015 or mid-2015 or even later," Lockhart told Reuters in an interview here. "The debate is real."

Lockhart said he continues to forecast a rate increase in mid-2015, with economic growth hovering around 3 percent, and that he feels it is "still early" to change the central bank’s main policy statement.

That statement says a rate increase won’t be appropriate until a "considerable time" after the central bank's bond purchases end this fall, and that there is still "significant underutilization" of labor.

"Even with good data, and we have had a run of very good data on balance, you still can only draw tentative conclusions," said Lockhart, who does not presently have a vote on the Fed's main policy committee.

He added that he did not expect progress towards the Fed’s dual goals of 2 percent inflation and maximum employment to be "electrically fast."

"It is going to be gradual,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of the Fed's annual central banking conference.

Still, with economic growth continuing, "some shift of language is on the table, should be on the table in the coming meetings," said Lockhart, who is viewed as a centrist on monetary policy.   Continued...

 
Dennis Lockhart, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, arrives at the opening reception of the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming August 21, 2014. REUTERS/David Stubbs