Three Fed policymakers on Tuesday expressed doubts about further rate hikes, with one influential policymaker calling for a delay in raising U.S. interest rates until the Fed is confident inflation will rebound.
A second Fed policymaker blamed the Fed's rate hikes to date not only for weak inflation, but also for undermining the recovery in the labor market that many policymakers including Fed Chair Janet Yellen have cited as they have justified raising rates. Late Tuesday a third policymaker advocated patience on rate hikes, given slow growth and inflation.
Taken together, the comments from one third of the Fed's current policy-setting panel suggest that months of falling or flat inflation readings could scuttle plans to raise rates once more this year and three times next year. Fed policymakers next meet Sept. 19-20 and are due to release fresh economic forecasts that may envision a flatter path for rate hikes ahead.
In a speech at the Economic Club of New York, Fed Governor Lael Brainard said the U.S. central bank should go so far as to make clear it is comfortable pushing prices modestly above the Fed's 2 percent target. The Fed's preferred gauge now stands at 1.4 percent.
"We should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target," said Brainard, a permanent voting member of the Fed's monetary policy committee who in the past has convinced colleagues to delay tightening.
The Fed has raised rates twice this year, the last time in June, when it published forecasts. Investors are skeptical about another rate now and give a December rate hike a 27 percent probability, and only even odds of a rate hike by next June.
Brainard drew a similar line in the sand a year ago, helping delay a policy tightening by a few months. Two weeks ago, the other sitting governor, Jerome Powell, said low inflation allowed the Fed to be patient on a hike.
Speaking later on Tuesday, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari went even further.
"Maybe our rate hikes are actually doing real harm to the economy," Kashkari said in a speech at the University of Minnesota's business school.
"It's very possible that our rate hikes over the past 18 months are leading to slower job growth, leaving more people on the sidelines, leading to lower wage growth, and leading to lower inflation and inflation expectations."
Kashkari was the only Fed policymaker to dissent on rate hikes this year, though some Fed policymakers who are not voters this year have also expressed disagreement with the current rate hike path.
Robert Kaplan, president of the Dallas Fed, said he believes "we can afford to be patient" on rate hikes because growth is slow and so is inflation.