Further US rate hikes 'most likely' needed: Fed minutes

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The Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC, US, on Aug 22, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States central bankers see no reason to pause their current course of gradual interest rate hikes amid the American economy's brisk expansion, according to meeting minutes released on Wednesday (Oct 17).

Further rate hikes "would most likely be consistent" with the current period of firming inflation and historically low unemployment, according to minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent meeting three weeks ago.

But some Fed members warned that instability in emerging economies - many of which are heavily indebted and vulnerable when US rates rise - could "spread more broadly through the global economy and financial markets".

The Federal Reserve's steady increases in benchmark lending rates have infuriated President Donald Trump, who recently called the bank's policymakers "crazy", "loco" and his "biggest threat".

Still, the minutes released on Wednesday showed that, for the moment at least, American policymakers were largely in agreement about the near future - despite the increasing heat from the President, who fears higher rates could derail his economic agenda.

The central bank expects to raise its key lending rate again in December - its ninth increase since 2015 - and three more times next year.

This would move US interest rates slightly above what policymakers say is "neutral" - that is, neither slowing nor speeding the economy - but some participants said the Fed may need to go even further than that.

Risk from a rising dollar

"A few participants expected that policy would need to become modestly restrictive for a time," according to the minutes.

Others said that, to avoid creating asset bubbles or having inflation run above the Fed's 2 per cent target for too long, the central bank would have to raise rates "above their assessments of its longer-run level".

Still, a "couple" of participants said they would oppose this unless clear danger signs - an overheating economy and mounting inflation - were to arise.

Meanwhile, the Fed took notice of clouds forming on the horizon.

Markets fear currency crises in Turkey, Argentina and other emerging market economies could spread beyond their borders - something that could be sparked as investors pull out to take advantage of higher rates in the US.

Furthermore, "some" at the meeting said that risks grew as the US economy increasingly outpaces its rivals' more sluggish growth "because of the potential for further strengthening of the dollar".

Stronger US currency makes American exports more costly to foreign buyers, possibly weighing on growth, and makes many debt payments more costly for foreign borrowers.

Some investors say that, after years of easy money, pockets of risk have built up throughout the global economy as borrowing costs begin to increase - raising the chances that a bubble could burst or banks could see significant defaults on debt.

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