U.S. central bankers should not let pockets of weakness distract them from fighting inflation as the economy recovers, Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Jeffrey Lacker said Wednesday.
In remarks to the Charlotte, N.C., Chamber of Commerce that echoed recent comments, Lacker said a worldwide pick-up in economic activity was boosting demand for U.S. exports.
Meanwhile, he added, housing and autos are no longer a drag on growth, although employment and commercial real estate continue to present serious hurdles.
These contrasts will make it difficult for the Fed to correctly time an eventual pullout from its unprecedented emergency measures, including record low interest rates and over $1 trillion of credit pumped into the financial system.
"I will be looking for the time at which economic growth is strong enough and well-established enough, even if it is not yet especially vigorous," he said. "We cannot be paralyzed by patches of lingering weakness.
His comments come as global central banks face conflicting forces that are pulling them in different directions.
Australia raised rates for a third time this week, while Japan announced measures aimed at further easing lending conditions.
The European Central Bank, for its part, is expected to outline a sketch of its own exit strategy at a meeting on Thursday.
Because the U.S. economy, at the epicenter of the global credit crisis, is expected to rebound more slowly than others, many analysts believe the Fed will be one of last to unwind its liquidity efforts.
Lacker, a voting member of the Fed's rate-setting committee, is widely viewed as one of the most aggressive anti-inflation hawks of the central bank.
He was opposed to a number of the Fed's emergency lending facilities, particularly ones that target specific sectors of the economy like housing.
In keeping with this history, Lacker is generally seen as the FOMC member most likely to call for an early withdrawal of the Fed's extraordinary stimulus.
Even other hawks, like Fed bank presidents Charles Plosser of Philadelphia and Richard Fisher of Dallas, have recently toned down their rhetoric, struck by how entrenched the unemployment problem in the United States has become.
The Labor Department will release the latest employment figures on Friday. They are forecast to show another 140,000 jobs were lost in November, while the unemployment rate remained perched at a 26-year high of 10.2 percent.
A report from ADP Employer Services on Wednesday showed 169,000 private-sector jobs were wiped out last month, more than economists had projected.
Despite this softness, Lacker appeared confident that the risk of an inflation spike was greater than the threat of a persistent decline in consumer prices.
"We have seen that even in the early stage of a recovery, inflation and inflation expectations can drift higher," he said.
"The perception of inflation risk could be particularly pertinent to the current recovery, given the massive and unprecedented expansion in bank reserves that has occurred."
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