The Federal Reserve needs to be prepared to take preemptive action against even the possibility of a surge of higher prices, a senior official of the central bank said Tuesday.
Jeffrey M. Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, added in an interview that he doesn’t think the recent rises in the price of fuel and other commodities will spiral into a broader inflation, but he cautioned that the central bank needs to remain vigilant.
“I think the recovery is fairly well established at this point,” said Lacker, who is generally in the hawkish wing of the central bank’s leadership, meaning he is one of those who worry most about inflation. “This is the time in the business cycle that the risk of an upward quantum leap in inflation is the greatest. We’re going to have to be careful to not wait until we see inflation get too high, but to move in a preemptive way.”
With the Fed poised to end a program of buying vast sums of Treasury bonds in June, the central bank will now be focused on the timing and strategy of removing its expansive efforts to support growth, Lacker said. The presidents of the 12 regional Fed banks rotate each year voting on the Fed’s monetary policy committee; Lacker will have a vote next year, when the committee will probably be weighing that exit.
“It may not be right around the corner, but we’re going to have to be really vigilant and careful about timing,” he said.
Lacker, whose bank serves an area stretching from Maryland to South Carolina, said just before a speech in Arlington at the Northern Virginia Regional Forum that he is optimistic that the Washington regional economy can weather federal budget cutbacks without too much damage.
“The uncertainty about the federal budget outlook is a risk for the region,” he said. “Having said that, one should not overlook the economic diversity of the region. The [information technology] sector, the life sciences. There are still some sources of strength that can propel this region forward.”
Lacker views the slow recovery in housing as a major reason growth has been slow coming out of the recession that ended in 2009, and said that drag could last for some time because of the oversupply of homes built during the boom years.
“In the very beginning of the recovery, a lot of economists looked back to past recessions and saw that housing rebounded sharply after every one,” Lacker said. “But this one’s different. The magnitude of the overbuilding in 1999 to 2005 is far beyond anything we saw before. . . . I can see why economists overlooked that. We overlooked that, or underestimated it, for a while, too.”
But he argued that conditions have improved in the job market. For wages, “prospects are just much more solid today than they were two years ago. Now people are pretty sure unemployment has peaked. People have a much better sense of whether their industry, their business is going to survive the recession.”