Interest rates could rise sooner than forecast as the economy recovers more quickly than expected from the throes of the Covid-19 damage, Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic said Monday.
While most of his colleagues don't see a rate hike coming through until at least 2023, Bostic said he thinks the emergency measures the Fed has taken to combat the pandemic can start to be rolled back within the next two years if not sooner.
"I do think there is some possibility that the economy could come back a bit stronger than some are expecting," he said during a virtual Q&A session before the Atlanta Rotary Club. "If that happens, I'm prepared to support pulling back and recalibrating a bit of our accommodation and then considering moving the policy rate."
"But I don't see that happening in 2021. A whole lot would have to happen to get us there," he added. "Then we'll see into 2022. Maybe the second half of 2022 or even 2023 where that might be more in play."
At their December meeting, members of the Federal Open Market Committee submitted their individual expectations for the next several years. The median expectation for the Fed's benchmark lending rate was to stay in its current targeted range of 0% to 0.25% through 2023, with a longer-range estimate of 2.5%.
Of 17 FOMC members who submitted policy "dots" that represent their forecast, none saw a rate hike likely in 2021 and only one indicated an increase in 2022. For the following year, three saw a single 25 basis point increase while one indicated 50 basis points higher and still one more saw a 100 basis point move, translating to a full percentage point or the equivalent of four increases.
Fed officials have been largely cautious about the variety of risks to the forecasts, and Bostic also noted that growth is almost entirely at the mercy of how quickly Americans are vaccinated and the coronavirus contained.
"All of the economic fallout has been a function of how we've responded to the public health crisis," he said. "Making a forecast about this year is really at its heart a forecast of how well the vaccine is going to penetrate into the population so we're at a place where we don't have to be so cautious about how we do our economic activity."
Bostic said he will be looking at three data points to guide his judgment for when the Fed can start to roll back its crisis-era measures. In addition to the near-zero rates, the Fed expanded its balance sheet by more than $3 trillion and implemented a series of lending and liquidity programs, several of which were terminate at the end of 2020.
Those metrics include temporary versus permanent job losses, the health of small businesses, and consumer confidence. Overriding all three, though, will be the path of the virus and the success of the efforts to control it, he said.