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Low inflation an 'ongoing concern': Fed's Lockhart

Low inflation in the U.S., Europe and Japan is a "ongoing concern," Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart told CNBC, but added that current monetary policies were on target.

Speaking in Dubai on Sunday, Lockhart said the Fed's current tapering of asset purchases, plus a potential lift-off in rates in the second half of 2015, was the most appropriate policy mix.

"Too low inflation in the U.S., and I would say also in Europe, and for that matter to some degree in Japan, is an ongoing concern," Lockhart said in an exclusive interview with CNBC.

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The latest data points hinted at a "firming up" of inflation towards the Fed's 2-percent target, he said, adding: "Whether or not it will hold, whether it's sustainable, is another question."

Lockhart, who currently holds a non-voting seat on the Fed's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), said its $10 billion step-downs in asset purchases looked set to continue.

Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Scott Eelis | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

"I think tapering is going to phase out toward the end of the year.... It would take a lot to change that decision in my opinion," he said.

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Lockhart admitted that he was surprised by poor performance of the U.S. economy in the first quarter, with gross domestic product (GDP) growth coming in at just 0.1 percent, far below market expectations.

This as recent data releases indicate the economy could have even contracted in the first three months of the year.

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"The fact that the number came in as low as it did, and in subsequent revisions could even go lower, is a surprise," he said.

Despite this first-quarter slump, however, Lockhard added that he was confident the U.S. economy was now strengthening in line with his forecast of an annual growth rate of three percent.

His comments come after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last week that the economy was "on track for solid growth this quarter." Although Yellen also warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario.

Lockhard, meanwhille, reiterated his initial projections as to when the Fed should consider lifting interest rates.

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"I view the second half of 2015 as a personal projection of when the conditions are likely to be right. But it's very important to emphasize that the decision to begin raising rates is a function of the economy, and it really depends on how the economy evolves," Lockhart explained.

Meanwhile, outgoing Federal Reserve Governor Jeremy Stein has repeatedly pointed to signs of overheating in the bond market. Last week, he warned that 2013's run-up in market-wide borrowing costs could be repeated as tighter monetary policy nears.

In Lockhart's view, however, there is nothing to worry about.

"In an overall sense, I'm not concerned that the bond market is poised from a tremendous correction," he said, noting that any adjustment in prices would happen in an "orderly" fashion.

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