US Fed: New rate hike likely coming soon

Ralph Lauren's flagship store in Fifth Avenue in New York. If the US economy continues to perform as expected, with continued job and wage growth leading to a rebound in consumer spending and business investment, "most participants judged... it would
Ralph Lauren's flagship store in Fifth Avenue in New York. If the US economy continues to perform as expected, with continued job and wage growth leading to a rebound in consumer spending and business investment, "most participants judged... it would soon be appropriate" to raise the key lending rate again, the minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting stated.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • US central bankers say it will "soon" be time to raise the key lending rate again, according to minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting released on Wednesday.

Monetary policymakers say they may wait, however, to see if weak growth recorded earlier this year was only temporary, which seems to open the possibility that the next rate increase could be delayed until after next month.

Fed officials said planned spending by President Donald Trump's administration could boost the economy more than currently forecast, although details and timing of the projects "remain highly uncertain".

Some central bankers also "expressed concerns" over the administration's plans to ease bank regulations, which "could increase risks to financial stability", according to the minutes.

At the meeting from May 2 to 3, the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted unanimously to keep the federal funds rate in a range of 0.75 per cent to 1 per cent, just as most analysts had expected, and downplayed the tepid gross domestic product growth in the first quarter as mostly due to "transitory factors".

Assuming the economy continues to perform as expected, with continued job and wage growth leading to a rebound in consumer spending and business investment, "most participants judged... it would soon be appropriate" to raise rates again, the minutes stated.

The central bank raised rates in March and December, amid a wave of optimism in the early days of Mr Trump's term with his promises of tax cuts, deregulation and big infrastructure spending.

Most analysts expect two more rate increases this year, likely at the next meeting from June 13 to 14, and again in September. However, the minutes surprisingly cast some doubt on that schedule.

"Members generally judged that it would be prudent to await additional evidence indicating that the recent slowing in the pace of economic activity had been transitory before taking another step" to increase the benchmark interest rate.

"The May FOMC minutes confirm that most members view the reported slowdown in Q1 GDP growth... as likely to be 'transitory' so they saw no need to shift their view that 'gradual' rate hikes likely will continue," said Pantheon Macroeconomics' Ian Shepherdson in a research note.

The first chance to look at one key piece of data will be on Monday, when the Commerce Department releases the personal income and spending report for last month.

Fed officials say the economy also is expected to see a boost from overseas demand for US exports, as "the risks stemming from global economic and financial developments" have "receded further", the minutes said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'US Fed: New rate hike likely coming soon'. Print Edition | Subscribe