Fed officials lean all ways on rate hikes, data in focus

Thu Apr 16, 2015 4:59pm EDT
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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Federal Reserve officials on Thursday were again at public odds over when the U.S. central bank should start raising rates, underscoring the difficult task ahead for Fed Chair Janet Yellen as she tries to build consensus for a rate hike sometime later this year.

Increasingly it appears she may need to play tie-breaker on a committee split over whether the greater risk is in waiting too long to raise rates, or in pulling the trigger too soon.

And the division among Fed officials over whether recent weak U.S. economic data is a temporary setback or a sign of more persistent sluggishness puts a renewed premium on Yellen's read of incoming data in the next two months.

The Fed's June meeting, Yellen said last month, is the earliest date for a start to the Fed's first round of monetary policy tightening in more than a decade.

On Thursday, Vice Chair Stanley Fischer emphasized the determining role of data on the exact timing of a rate hike at some point later this year. But he gave no sense of when he thought that would be.

“We’ll try to do it at the best possible time and we would like to see the economy beginning to grow again,” Fischer said on CNBC.

Three other Fed officials did weigh in on timing, with views as diverse as the locations from which they spoke.

To Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, the "murky" data argue for waiting.

"I would lean to a little later versus a little earlier," Lockhart said, adding that he expects signs of labor market weakness to prove transitory but wants more evidence to be sure.   Continued...

A detail from the front of the United States Federal Reserve Board building is shown in Washington October 28, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron