New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said Wednesday that the central bank "can afford to be flexible" on raising interest rates amid ongoing U.S. economic uncertainty.
"The base case outlook is looking good, but various uncertainties continue to loom large. Therefore, we can afford to be flexible and wait for the data to guide our approach," Williams said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Economic Club of New York.
Williams said that such a data-driven approach is the key reason that the interest rates were held steady at the most recent Federal Open Markets Committee meeting on interest rates at January's end.
But he added that the macro data making Fed decisions difficult right now include slowdowns in Europe and China that can hamper demand for U.S. exports. He also cited the uncertainty of Brexit and ongoing trade negotiations between America and its trading partners. Williams also cited a potentially slowing U.S. economy as a reason for the Fed to show patience on rate hikes.
"The tightening of financial conditions that occurred late last year will likely restrain consumer and business spending this year," the New York Fed chief said. "In fact, we have already seen a sustained slowing in housing construction, in part reflecting less-favorable financing costs."
Still, he noted that the slower growth isn't necessarily a bad thing, calling it the "new normal."
Williams added that "guiding the U.S. economy is like steering a large ship. Monetary-policy decisions can leave a wake several miles long, with implications that reach far into the future. We'll consider the full range of data -- the headline statistics, the market indicators -- and we'll listen to our business contacts on the ground as we aim to keep the economy on its current course of a strong labor market, sustainable growth and 2% inflation. ... In everything that we do, we need to consider all the information and exercise data dependence and flexibility as we navigate the course ahead."
His comments dovetailed with remarks Tuesday from Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who advised patience rather than immediate interest rate hikes.
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