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A minority view but a growing one.
They are thinking the low rates are destabilizing the housing and financial markets via the weak USD channel.
by Vivien Lou Chen
(Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Gary Stern said the central bank shouldn’t wait for financial and housing markets to stabilize before raising interest rates.
“We can’t wait until we clearly observe the financial markets at normal, the economy growing robustly, and so on and so forth, before we reverse course” and begin raising rates, Stern said in an interview in Minneapolis today. “Our actions will affect the economy in the future, not at the moment. Forecasts play a critical role.”
The comments by Stern, a voter on the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee this year, may reinforce traders’ forecasts for a rate increase by year-end. Stern indicated that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will help prevent a deeper housing and economic slump.
“We’re pretty well-positioned for the downside risks we might encounter from here,” said Stern, 63, the Fed’s longest-serving policy maker. “I worry a little bit more about the prospects for inflation.”
The bank president compared the current credit crunch to the one in the early 1990s, which restrained economic growth for almost three years. That’s a more sanguine assessment than others have. The International Monetary Fund has said it’s the worst since the Great Depression and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said it’s the most intense in more than half a century.
Stern spoke two days after government figures showed consumer prices surged 5 percent over the past year, the biggest jump since 1991. Excluding food and fuel, so-called core prices rose 2.4 percent, higher than the 2.1 percent average over the last five years.
“Headline inflation is clearly too high,” Stern said. He added that he’s concerned that will feed through to core prices and public expectations for inflation.
As long as energy and food costs level off, core inflation ought to slow over the next year, Stern said.
Crude oil has surged 73 percent in the past 12 months, and rose to a record of $147.27 a barrel on July 11. Worldwide, prices for food commodities such as wheat and rice were 43 percent higher in April than a year earlier, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Stern declined to say when policy makers may shift toward raising rates. The FOMC halted its series of seven reductions last month, after reducing the benchmark rate to 2 percent, from 5.25 percent last September.
Traders estimate 58 percent odds that the Fed will boost its main rate at least a quarter point from 2 percent in October, after keeping borrowing costs unchanged in August and September. There’s a 73 percent probability of a move by year-end, futures prices show.
Minutes of the Fed’s June 24-25 gathering, released July 15, showed that some Fed officials favored an increase in rates “very soon.” Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke this week said there are risks to both inflation and growth, abandoning the FOMC’s June assessment that the threat of a “substantial” downturn had receded.
“This is a very challenging policy environment,” Stern said today. “I don’t think we ought to pretend that” an end to the credit crisis “won’t take some time,” he said.
The Fed on July 13 offered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac access to direct loans from the central bank in case the firms needed the financing before Congress acts on Paulson’s rescue plan. The Treasury chief is seeking power to make unlimited loans to and purchase equity in the companies if needed.
Stern said the proposals are “clearly designed to bolster Fannie and Freddie.”
Stern is the only FOMC member who’s served with three chairmen: Paul Volcker, Greenspan and Bernanke. He became the bank’s president in 1985.