Fed's Bullard says job market strength may not augur higher inflation

Feb 6 (Reuters) - St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard on Tuesday said recent strength in the U.S. labor market may not trigger faster price increases, a view that runs counter to investors' inflation fears currently pushing the stock market lower.

The U.S. stock market has plunged since employment data on Friday showed strong job growth in January as well as surprisingly fast wage increases.

Investors now see a higher risk of inflation as well as faster rate increases by the U.S. central bank. But Bullard, who does not have a vote on monetary policy this year although he participates in policy discussions, said inflation could stay low.

"I caution against interpreting good news from labor markets as translating directly into higher inflation," Bullard said in excerpts of prepared remarks at a conference in Lexington, Kentucky. "The empirical relationship between these variables has broken down in recent years and may be close to zero."

Bullard has been expressing doubt for months over how well economists understand what will ultimately lead inflation to make a sustained rebound.

However, he said recent gains in market-based measures of inflation expectations may give a signal of future inflation.

"The measures today are closer to being in line with the (Fed's) 2 percent inflation target, but remain a bit low," Bullard said. (Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)