The Federal Reserve doesn’t need to ‘keep our foot on the gas pedal’ anymore, Fed’s Bostic says

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The risk of a powerful economy overheating is the reason the Fed should stick to its schedule of interest rate increases, Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic said Tuesday.

With the jobless rate running at 3.7 percent and considerably below what is considered full employment, the Fed has to weigh the risks of tightening too quickly and choking off what has been a robust economic run, and waiting too long and risking runaway price pressures.

“And while I wrestle with that choice, one thing seems clear: there is little reason to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” Bostic said in a speech delivered to business leaders in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The reference is to the accommodative policy the Fed has maintained since the financial crisis.

Bostic acknowledged headwinds to growth including tariffs and a strong bout of financial market volatility, against the tail winds of tax cuts and other fiscal stimulus. Stocks were in sell-off mode again Tuesday, though they were well off their morning lows by around 1:15 pm.

“After digging through the data, consulting our economic models, and gathering a Main Street perspective from our extensive network of business contacts, I come away with the sense that economic growth is on a strong trajectory,” he said. “It’s on solid footing and hasn’t been materially pushed higher or lower.”

The speech comes as the Fed has hiked its benchmark interest rate target three times this year and is on track for a fourth in December. Current projections from Federal Open Market Committee members point to three more increases in 2019 and one or two more in 2020.

Rhetoric from central bank officials has been mostly hawkish lately. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a recent interview that he thinks the central bank is “a long way” from getting to a neutral rate that is neither stimulative nor restrictive for growth, and minutes from the September meeting pointed to more increases on the way.

Indeed, Bostic said he had a hard time finding synonyms for “strong” to describe the economy.

“That does not mean that the trajectory for the economy is immovable,” he said. “There are ample reasons for a central banker like me to be concerned. But, from my perspective, the economy is performing well enough to stand on its own without support from accommodative monetary policy.”

Markets will get their first look at the third-quarter GDP reading on Friday. Current expectations are for a reading around 3.3 percent, though the Atlanta Fed’s tracker puts the estimate at 3.9 percent.

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