Fed’s Collins says policymakers can ‘proceed cautiously’ on future rate hikes

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Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Susan Collins stands behind the Jackson Lake Lodge in Jackson Hole, where the Kansas City Fed holds its annual economic symposium, in Wyoming, August 24, 2023.

Ann Saphir | Reuters

Boston Federal Reserve President Susan Collins on Wednesday advocated a patient approach to policymaking while saying she needs more evidence to convince her that inflation has been tamed.

In remarks that aligned with sentiment from other key central bankers, Collins said the Fed may be “near or even at the peak” for interest rates.

However, she noted that more increases could be needed depending on how the data shakes out from here.

“Overall, we are well positioned to proceed cautiously in this uncertain economic environment, recognizing the risks while remaining resolute and data-dependent, with the flexibility to adjust as conditions warrant,” Collins said in prepared remarks for a speech in Boston.

Those sentiments mesh with recent statements from Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Governor Christopher Waller. Both also supported the patient approach while cautioning that they view recent positive developments on inflation with caution and are ready to approve additional rate hikes if needed.

In a CNBC interview on Tuesday, Waller contended the Fed can “proceed carefully” on policy while noting that it had been “burned twice before” in the past few years on inflation that appeared to be slowing but then turned around.

In her speech, Collins also noted some good news on inflation, as the Fed’s preferred gauge rose just 0.2% in July while wage growth also seems to have slowed.

However, she cautioned that “it is difficult to extract the signal from the noise in the data.” If the improvement is fleeting, “further tightening could be warranted,” she said.

“There are promising developments, but given the continued strength in demand, my view is that it is just too early to take the recent improvements as evidence that inflation is on a sustained path back to 2%,” said Collins, who is a nonvoting member this year on the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. She will vote again in 2025.

Collins also spoke on the lags with which Fed policy is thought to work.

Generally, economists believe it takes a year to a year and a half for rate hikes to seep through the economy. However, Collins said that Covid-related factors and the general strength of household and corporate balance sheets could lengthen those lags, calling for more caution on policy.

“The goal is an orderly slowdown that better aligns demand with supply, which is essential to ensure that inflation is on a sustainable trajectory back to target,” she said.

Market pricing points to a strong likelihood that the Fed will not raise rates at its Sept. 19-20 policy meeting, according to CME Group data. However, it’s a close call for the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 meeting, with traders assigning about a 43% probability of one last increase.

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