Fed's Bostic says interest rates are 'not too far' from neutral

  • Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said the central bank "is not too far" from a neutral interest rate.
  • His comments counter a statement last month from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, who said rates are "a long way" from neutral.
  • Bostic expressed concerns about global growth and fading fiscal stimulus in the U.S.
Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Cameron Costa | CNBC
Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic called for caution as the central bank determines how far and how fast to keep raising interest rates.

Bostic said the central bank is "not too far" from reaching a "neutral" short-term policy rate, a term the Fed likes to use to describe a level that is neither stimulative nor restrictive for growth. That assessment seems to counter a comment last month from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, who said the Fed is "a long way" from neutral.

Powell's comments rattled markets and helped contribute to a substantial round of volatility that has continued through November.

"I don't think we are too far from a neutral policy, and neutral is where we want to be," Bostic said in prepared remarks for a speech in Madrid. "We may not be there quite yet, but I am inclined to think that a tentative approach as we proceed would be appropriate."

As part of a continuing process to normalize policy from its highly accommodative stance, the Fed has hiked its benchmark funds rate three times in 2018 and is expected to approve another increase in December.

While the market has priced in each of those hikes, there remains a disparity between traders and the Fed over what is ahead. Central bank officials have pointed to three more moves in 2019 and one or two more in 2020, while the market is implying just two more increases in 2019 before a pause.

Bostic echoed recent comments from Powell that the Fed runs two risks: moving too quickly and halting growth, as President Donald Trump fears, or being too tentative and allowing inflation to run rampant.

He also expressed some concern about the pace of global growth as well as a U.S. unemployment rate that is below what Fed officials see as sustainable.

"I think a risk management approach requires that we at least consider the possibility that unemployment rates that are lower than normal for an extended period are symptoms of an overheated economy," he said.

Among other headwinds he noted are rising credit card delinquencies and a boost from fiscal stimulus that could fade, creating weakness in the economy.

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