Fed's Evans backs 'patiently' raising interest rates in absence of inflation

Key Points
  • Chicago Fed President Charles Evans backs a dovish approach to rate hikes, saying the Fed can be patient while inflation remains low.
  • The nonvoting Federal Open Market Committee member said a low unemployment rate is not causing price or wage pressures.
Charles Evans
Olivia Michael | CNBC

With inflation still kept at pay, interest rates can go up in a gradual manner without causing the economy to overheat, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said.

The central bank official said that even though a low unemployment rate normally would cause pressure on prices and wages, both inflation readings and expectations remain low.

That gives the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee breathing room as it seeks to normalize policy.

"I think we have the opportunity to more patiently read — and react to — the incoming data," Evans said at a speech in Chicago. "That is, I think we can undertake more moderate monetary policy adjustments today than often was the case in the past."

He pointed to the runaway inflation in the late 1970s that caused the Fed to have to raise rates quickly in the early part of the next decade, a move that pushed the economy into recession. Some of the Fed's more hawkish members worry that if they wait to raise rates until more pressing signs of inflation happen, there's a risk of having to tighten too quickly.

"The lessons from that painful experience are embodied in the FOMC's adoption of its long-run strategy," Evans said. "We have a dual mandate that includes a symmetric 2 percent inflation objective. As long as we act to keep inflation within the symmetry envisioned, inflation expectations should be contained."

Evans is a nonvoting committee member but still provides input into its decisions.

The committee in March voted to raise its target interest rate a quarter point to a range of 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent. Markets expect another increase in June, one more in September and then a 38 percent chance of a fourth rate hike in December, according to the CME.