Fed's Kaplan: Trade deal could be positive, open mind on rates

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The freshly inked U.S.-China trade deal could be a “positive development” for the U.S. economy, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Friday but repeated that he’ll remain open-minded and watching data closely in the run-up to the Fed’s Oct. 29-30 policy meeting.

Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, U.S., October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

“Some of the recent deceleration in global growth, weakness in manufacturing and weakness in business investment has been due to trade uncertainty, so I think to the extent that there is some moderation in this escalation ...that could be a positive development,” Kaplan told reporters after a talk at the Commonwealth Club.

But “we’re going to have to wait and see how events unfold,” he said.

The outlines of the trade deal were announced while Kaplan was giving his talk. He had said previously that an easing of trade tensions could reduce risks to the economic outlook but also noted that since April U.S. trade policy has swung dramatically.

“We’ve had positive surprises and we’ve had negative surprises in a relatively short amount of time,” Kaplan said, noting that before the Fed’s July and September rate cuts he had been strongly supportive of easing policy.

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Now, with 18 days before the Fed next meeting, “I just want to be patient here and take some time now... to assess events, and keep an open mind.”

Kaplan also responded to questions about the Fed’s new program to buy Treasury bills, announced earlier in the day to address strains in overnight funding markets.

Kaplan blamed the lack of liquidity on the “dramatic increase” in government borrowing as well as regulatory changes since the financial crisis that make banks less willing to lend reserves to each other.

The lack of liquidity that led to a spike in overnight lending rates in September is not a sign of a bigger problem, Kaplan said. And the action the Fed is taking to address it - buying $60 billion in Treasury bills monthly starting next week - is a technical fix, not a change to monetary policy.

“We put the fed funds rate at 1.75% to 2%; this (new program) has no effect on changing that, it is not intended to create more accommodation or create more stimulus,” Kaplan said. “It is intended to ensure in an ample reserves regime that we are able to set the fed funds rate in the target range that we set.”

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman