Federal Reserve minutes point to rate hike 'fairly soon'

Wed Feb 22, 2017 2:58pm EST
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By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many Federal Reserve policymakers said it may be appropriate to raise interest rates again "fairly soon" should jobs and inflation data come in line with expectations, according to the minutes of the Fed's last policy meeting released on Wednesday.

The minutes of the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 discussion, at which the U.S. central bank voted to keep rates unchanged, also showed the depth of uncertainty at the Fed because of a lack of clarity on the new Trump administration's economic program.

"Many participants expressed the view that it might be appropriate to raise the federal funds rate again fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations," the Fed said in the minutes.

Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said waiting too long to raise rates again would be "unwise" and gave a strong indication that the central bank remains on track to consider raising rates again by the summer.

Fed Governor Jerome Powell, one of the voting members at the central bank's last policy meeting, said on Wednesday a rate hike would be on the table at the Fed's next meeting in March.

Seventeen policymakers deliberate at each meeting on whether to change the interest rate, although only 10 of them have a vote.

Prices for U.S. stocks fell marginally following the publication of the minutes and yields on U.S. government debt also dropped. Expectations on when the Fed will next raise rates were little changed, with investors predicting a move in May at the earliest, according to fed fund futures data compiled by the CME Group.

Among voting members in general there was much less urgency to raise rates with many seeing only a "modest risk" that inflation would increase significantly and that the Fed would "likely have ample time" to respond if price pressures emerged.   Continued...

The United States Federal Reserve Board building is shown in Washington October 28, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron