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Rate cut not always needed: Fed official

Market disruptions can be addressed using tools available

(NEW YORK) Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia president Charles Plosser said there is an ‘underlying stability’ in the US economy and officials need not always cut interest rates in response to turmoil in financial markets.

‘Disruptions in financial markets can be addressed using the tools available to the Federal Reserve without necessarily having to make a shift in the overall direction of monetary policy,’ Mr Plosser said on Saturday at a conference in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Mr Plosser said while the housing slump has lowered forecasts for the expansion and there is ‘considerable uncertainty’ about the outlook, he expects economic growth to return ‘toward trend later in 2008.’ The drag from housing will ‘gradually’ ease, concluding sometime next year.

The comments suggest that Mr Plosser has yet to conclude a reduction in the Fed’s benchmark rate is critical to safeguard the economy, which lost jobs for the first time in four years in August. The Philadelphia Fed chief doesn’t vote on the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee until next year.

Lowering the benchmark rate is an ‘option if financial sector problems spill over to significantly harm the outlook for the broader economy,’ said Mr Plosser, 58, who took office a year ago. And, when shocks threaten market stability, a central bank ‘must be prepared to act promptly,’ he said.

Mr Plosser said that the US has coped with blows in the past, such as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and oil-price shocks, and that a decline in one industry ‘does not always imply major problems in the economy as a whole.’

‘It is important to understand and appreciate this underlying stability of the economy in the face of temporary disturbances as we seek to assess monetary policy,’ Mr Plosser told the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers convention.

Investors and economists said on Friday there’s little doubt Fed policy makers will lower the main rate after a government report that day showed employers unexpectedly cut 4,000 from payrolls in August.

‘The committee usually does not base its decision to change monetary policy on any one number,’ Mr Plosser said, without referring specifically to the August jobs report.

Answering questions following his speech, Mr Plosser said the outlook for inflation is ‘still up in the air,’ and it’s not clear that the moderation in prices of recent months will be sustained.


Source: Bloomberg (Business Times 10 Sept 07)


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