The argument in favor of cutting interest rates has strengthened recently as cross currents buffet the U.S. economy amid heightened uncertainty, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said.
“The case for providing accommodation has increased,” he said Friday in an interview on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene. “Especially in the last six or eight weeks, there has been elevated uncertainty about the outlook.”
Clarida’s comments largely reinforced remarks Wednesday by Chairman Jerome Powell after Fed officials left interest rates on hold while saying uncertainty over their outlook had increased. That was widely interpreted as opening the door to an interest-rate cut as early as the Fed’s next gathering, in late July.
The vice chairman brushed aside concerns that the Fed’s political autonomy is at risk from President Donald Trump’s relentless criticism of the central bank. “I don’t think our independence is under threat,” he said.
Bloomberg News reported this week the president believes he has the authority to strip the Fed’s chairmanship from Powell after Trump asked White House lawyers to explore the legality of such a move.
Asked how central bankers were responding to such reports, Clarida said, “We’re just doing our job.”
He said the baseline outlook for the U.S. economy is “good,” although growth could moderate somewhat this year and uncertainty has increased.
“The economy is hitting some cross currents now,” he said. “There’s been a marking down in global growth prospects. There’s been uncertainty about international trade.”
He said the Fed would be looking at a panoply of data in deciding the way forward, including developments overseas.
“We’re not a one-note central bank,” he said, taking issue with a suggestion that a weak June jobs report on its own would tip the Fed into cutting rates. This month’s employment report is scheduled to be published on July 5.
The Federal Open Market Committee’s vote on Wednesday to leave rates unchanged -- in a 2.25% to 2.5% range -- was not unanimous, with St. Louis Fed President James Bullard seeking a quarter-point rate cut. His vote marked the first dissent of Powell’s 16-month tenure as chairman.
In a blog posting on Friday explaining his dissent, Bullard said he favored a rate cut to guard against downside risks of too-low inflation and weaker growth.
“Even if a sharper-than-expected slowdown does not materialize, a rate cut would help promote a more rapid return of inflation and inflation expectations to target,’’ he said.
Bullard said that even though he dissented, “I remain confident that the committee will continue to monitor economic developments and respond accordingly as economic circumstances dictate.’’
In his Bloomberg Television interview, Clarida sounded a similar note. “We’ll act as appropriate to sustain expansion,” he said.
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