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Bullard says Fed should raise rates to ‘minimum’ of 5% to 5.25%

Nov. 17, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 17, 2022 at 9:15 a.m.

James Bullard, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is shown in London, on Oct. 15, 2019.  (Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg )
James Bullard, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is shown in London, on Oct. 15, 2019. (Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg )
By Steve Matthews Bloomberg

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said policymakers should raise interest rates to at least 5% to 5.25% to curb the highest inflation in nearly 40 years.

“In the past I have said 4.75%-5%,” he told reporters Thursday after giving a speech in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Based on this analysis today, I would say 5%-5.25%. That’s a minimum level. According to this analysis that would at least get us in the zone.”

Chair Jerome Powell said earlier this month that rates will need to rise more than previously expected due to disappointing data, while suggesting that officials could moderate the size of their increases going forward.

A key inflation reading since then was better than expected but officials continue to stress the need to keep raising rates.

Officials in September had projected rates rising to around 4.6% next year from a current target range of 3.75%-4%.

Those projections will be updated at the Fed’s Dec. 13-14 meeting.

San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly said Wednesday that “somewhere between 4.75 and 5.25 seems a reasonable place to think about” for the level that officials should raise rates to then go on hold.

During his presentation, Bullard showed charts that indicated rates will need to be between about 5% to 7% to meet policymakers’ goal of being “sufficiently restrictive” to curb inflation near a four-decade high.

The calculation used different versions of a Taylor Rule, a popular monetary policy guideline developed by Stanford University’s John Taylor.

“It’s easy to make arguments that before this is all over you’d have to go to much higher levels of the policy rate” than 5.25%, said Bullard, who votes on policy this year.

“But for now I’d be happy to get to the minimal level and that’s why I think the committee is going to have to do more.”

The St. Louis Fed leader, who has been among the more hawkish of policymakers this year, was the latest central banker to call for additional action.

The Fed raised rates by 75 basis points on Nov. 2 for the fourth straight time as part of its most aggressive tightening since the 1980s to curb an inflation that started in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions.

Bullard didn’t say whether he would favor a 50 or 75 basis-point move at the Fed’s December meeting, telling reporters that he would look to Powell to set the direction.

A number of his colleagues have called for a downshift in the size of the next rate increase following last week’s consumer price report, which showed a softening in core consumer goods inflation in October.

Investors expect the Fed will raise rates by a half percentage point next month and see rates peaking around 5% next year.

The St. Louis Fed president said he expected officials to keep rates high for an extended period to avoid the kind of monetary policy mistakes of the 1970s that resulted in persistently high inflation.

“We certainly don’t want to replay that episode,” he told reporters. “So we’re going to have to see very tangible evidence that inflation’s coming down meaningfully toward target, and I think we’re going to want to err on the side of staying higher for longer in order to get that to happen.”

Bullard said while he expected inflation to come down next year, there’s been relatively little evidence of that so far.

“Thus far, the change in the monetary-policy stance appears to have had only limited effects on observed inflation, but market pricing suggests disinflation is expected in 2023,” Bullard said in his prepared remarks.

He also said that rate hikes so far have caused little financial stress.

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