Fed's George: Dec rate hike 'a late start,' recent volatility unsurprising

Recent market pain is not surprising or worrying, and the Federal Reserve will maintain its rate-hiking course unless the outlook changes, a top Fed official said Tuesday.

Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George said the central bank got a "late start" by raising its interest rate target in December. But George, a voting member on the Fed's policymaking committee, noted that the U.S. economy stands in a "generally good position" and could support further rate increases with an uptick in activity.

"My own view is that a pickup in economic growth, steady job gains and modestly higher core rates of inflation will warrant further increases," George said in prepared remarks in Kansas City, Missouri, before the Central Exchange.

Esther George, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.
Ron Antonelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Esther George, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.

George's comments came as U.S. stocks slid amid a continued dip in crude oil prices. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer acknowledged both of those trends in a Monday speech, but said it was difficult to judge the effects of market volatility or predict the Fed's next move.

Last week, the central bank's policy committee voted to keep its interest rate target unchanged after raising it in December for the first time in more than nine years. The Fed previously indicated it planned to hike four times this year, but market volatility has more traders betting it will dial back its hiking plans.

George gave no indication that market trends had forced her to reconsider the policy path. Policy cannot change in response to every rough patch in financial markets, she said.

"Even looking at developments so far this year, financial markets have been quite volatile. While taking a signal from such volatility is warranted, monetary policy cannot respond to every blip in financial markets," she said.

While George acknowledged headwinds in the energy and manufacturing sectors, she stated that the U.S. consumer should receive a boost as the labor market continues to recover. She contended that lower gas prices and a pickup in wage growth should lead to more consumer spending.

In its outlook last week, the Fed's policy committee said it expected the labor market would continue to strengthen as policy remains accommodative. However, Fischer on Monday said the central bank wanted to see more U.S. wage inflation.

George, like Fischer, noted that lower oil prices and a stronger dollar have pressured inflation, which continues to linger below the Fed's 2 percent target.