Fed's James Bullard says he's pleased with rates at these levels and it's time to 'wait and see'

  • Bullard, a voting FOMC member this year, says it's time to "wait and see" how the economy develops before taking any more rate action.
  • "I would like to think we're out of the business of penciling in further increases that have to be made," says Bullard, who's been dovish for a while.
  • However, Bullard stresses if the economy were to show unexpected strength or weakness, the Fed would consider acting "in either direction."

St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC on Friday that interest rates are at a good level to "set us up for a good couple of years."

Bullard, a voting member on the central bank's policymaking Federal Open Market Committee this year, said he's pleased with the Fed's "patient" stance. "The level of rates is very good where it is today," he said in an interview.

"I would like to think we're out of the business of penciling in further increases that have to be made. I don't think we're in that game anymore," said Bullard, who's been calling for the Fed to pause for a while. "Now it's time to wait and see how the economy develops."

The Fed on Wednesday cemented its "patient" approach on rate hikes after its post-meeting decision to hold rates steady in a range between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell started to push that "patient" narrative on Jan. 4 after four rate hikes last year. The latest increase was in December, when the Fed had projected two more hikes in 2019.

Bullard, who appeared on "Squawk Box" after the government on Friday morning reported much stronger-than-expected January jobs gains, recognized the strength. But he said, at this point in the cycle, "looking at low unemployment and jobs growth is maybe a backward-looking signal."

"Obviously, we will react to data as it comes in. If the economy performs better than expect or worst than expected going forward, we're willing to move in either direction," Bullard said. "But there wouldn't be any presumption now anymore that we're going to move in one direction or the other."

That should please President Donald Trump who has been a vocal critic of the Fed's policies under Powell, arguing the central bank's path higher on rates could hurt the economy. As recently as December, Trump discussed firing Powell because of widespread losses in the stock market.

Wall Street plunged in the final three months of 2018 after Powell in October touched off concerns about an aggressive rate-hike policy. He later walked back that notion. But uncertainty persisted, and the S&P 500 actually dipped in a bear market, down 20 percent or more from recent highs on Christmas Eve, which marked the lowest close for the index in 2018.

However, since then, the S&P 500 has bounced 15 percent as of Thursday's close, which was the last day of January. For last month, the index gained nearly 8 percent, the best monthly performance since October 2015.