Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said Tuesday it could be “several meetings” before the Fed has a clear enough read on the economy to take action on interest rates.
It is the latest sign that the Fed is likely on hold until at least the summer, if not longer. Top Fed officials have been unified in their remarks in recent days to stress they will be patient for a while.
“It may be several meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee before Fed policymakers have a clearer read on whether the risks are becoming reality — and by how much the economy will slow compared to last year,” said Rosengren in a speech, adding “patiently watching” is the best policy for now.
The Fed will decide whether to raise, cut or keep interest rates the same at its meetings on March 20, May 1 and June 19. The benchmark U.S. interest rate is currently set at a range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent.
Rosengren’s remarks echo Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell’s recent testimony to Congress where the central bank leader emphasized the Fed was in “no rush” to act on rates. Rosengren is a voting member this year on the Fed’s committee that sets interest rate levels.
"There are a number of near-term risks that hopefully will be clarified by the summer time,” Rosengren told The Washington Post in an interview after his speech. “We’ll certainly know whether or not there’s a trade agreement with China and whether tariffs are going up or not.”
For the U.S. and global economy, there is a lot riding on whether President Trump can ease trade tensions with China and Europe this spring. Numerous Fed leaders have described in recent days how growth overseas is slowing, a drag for the United States at a time when the impact of the tax cuts and fiscal stimulus appears to be fading.
Many business leaders have complained to the Fed that they are hesitant to make significant investments until there is clarity from Trump on trade. Rosengren also said he heard a lot of worry from the business community about the economic outlook at the end of 2018 as stock and bond markets tumbled.
The S&P 500 has rebounded in 2019, enjoying its best January-February start to the year since 1991, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. But Rosengren noted that while stocks have rebounded, credit markets have not fully bounced back, an indication some investors remain on edge.
The Fed is predicting 2.3 percent growth this year, down from about 3 percent growth last year. It is a “solid” level of growth that the central bank hopes to sustain for years to come, but Rosengren, Powell and Vice Chair Richard Clarida have stressed “cross currents” and “head winds” are strengthening.
“I would say the downside now is a higher probability than it was six months ago,” Rosengren said.
For now, the Fed sees little sign of inflation rising much above its 2 percent target, giving the central bank room to wait and see what happens in the coming months with the economy at home and abroad. Their focus has turned to clarifying what they want to do with the nearly $4 trillion in assets the Fed still owns from its attempts to revive the financial system and economy during the crisis.
The Fed is working to “decide on the appropriate timing and pace for concluding our balance-sheet drawdown,” Clarida said last week at a conference in the District.