June 21, 2019 / 4:09 PM / 3 months ago

Fed's Brainard says risks bolster argument for lower-than-expected rates

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Policymakers have to shift down their future interest rate expectations because of growing risks to the U.S. economy, a Federal Reserve official said on Friday in remarks that reinforce expectations that the central bank could cut rates soon.

Fed Governor Lael Brainard said “the most likely path for the economy remains solid” but that growing risks from tame inflation and “policy uncertainty” require central banks to do some “risk management” to sustain growth.

“The downside risks, if they materialize, could weigh on economic activity,” Brainard said in remarks prepared for delivery at a central bank event in Cincinnati.

“Basic principles of risk management in a low neutral rate environment with compressed conventional policy space would argue for softening the expected path of policy when risks shift to the downside.”

Two Fed officials, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, on Friday sounded the alarm on sluggish inflation and called for immediate action in response. Their comments amounted to a broadside against the slim majority of Federal Reserve policymakers who are disinclined to support interest rate cuts this year. Brainard’s remarks fell short of advocating for an immediate cut.

The Fed left its target range for the policy rate unchanged at 2.25% to 2.5% at its latest two-day meeting, which concluded Wednesday. Economic projections from Fed policymakers released Wednesday showed eight of 19 thought they would need to cut interest rates by year’s end, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that more policymakers had seen the case for accommodation. The risks include U.S. trade frictions with China and high levels of corporate debt.

“Crosscurrents from policy uncertainty have risen since early May, crimping business investment plans, raising concerns in some financial market segments, and weighing on global growth prospects,” Brainard said.

“In addition, recent indicators of inflation and inflation expectations have been disappointing, making it all the more important to sustain the economy’s momentum.”

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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