Surging U.S. gas and food prices are unlikely to trigger a broad rise in costs that would force the U.S. Federal Reserve to reverse its ultra-loose monetary policy stance, a top Fed official said.
"Commodity price increases do not necessarily portend future broad inflation," Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Monday. "In fact, despite the views aired by pundits, the historical evidence is that today's commodity price increases will likely have little discernible effect on future core inflation."
While the U.S. recovery has become sustainable, it is still moderate and still needs the boost that the Fed is supplying through near-zero interest-rates and large asset purchases designed to push down borrowing costs, Evans said.
"Slow progress in closing resource gaps and underlying inflation trends that are too low lead me to conclude that substantial policy accommodation continues to be appropriate," Evans said. The U.S. central bank will likely complete its current $600 billion bond-buying program in June, on schedule, he added.
Inflation fears have risen recently on a spike in oil and commodities costs, driven in part by political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa. In the last three months U.S. energy prices have risen at an annual pace of 29 percent, while food prices have risen 14 percent.
Evans said the higher prices for food and gas are unlikely to lead to broader price increases because a weak labor market means there is little upward pressure on wages. Without higher wages, consumers will be unable to pay higher prices, keeping wider inflation under wraps.
Higher commodity prices will likely push total inflation up to 2 percent this year from its recent 1.5 percent, but underlying inflation continues to be subdued, Evans said.
"If unforeseen price increases alter inflation expectations and these expectations for higher prices boost longer-run underlying inflation, then it may become appropriate to adjust policy," Evans said. But historical evidence suggests such a scenario is unlikely, he said.
Evans, a voting member of the Fed's policy-setting committee, has been one of the Fed's more dovish policymakers, more concerned with the dangers of high unemployment than with the threat of inflation.
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