March 29, 2019 / 5:14 PM / 21 days ago

Fed's Kashkari says rate cut now would be 'premature'

President of the Federal Reserve Bank on Minneapolis Neel Kashkari speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve should not bow to market pressure by advocating a “premature” rate cut until it becomes clear whether recent weakness in the U.S. economy is a blip or a harbinger of danger down the road, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari told Reuters on Friday.

“I, for one, want to see more evidence that the economy is actually slowing before we would then go and cut rates; I think there’s a real cost to the Federal Reserve chasing noisy data because we can add to uncertainty,” Kashkari said in an interview. “There’s a cost to these pivots.”

It will take “a few more months” to determine whether the slowdown is lasting, he said.

Though the probability of recession is higher than it was nine months ago, it still is not the most likely outcome in his view. And while it is possible that the Fed has already raised rates too high and will need to backtrack, as markets are betting, Kashkari said he needs more time to know for sure.

“I don’t know if the recent slowdown in data is a blip or if it’s a real economic trend,” he said. “If we reach the conclusion that the economy is really slowing, then I think it would be appropriate to consider cutting interest rates.”

Kashkari’s remarks are notable not because they are measured - several other Fed policymakers have also recently downplayed the chance of recession despite a signal from bond markets that one is coming - but because he has been one of the Fed’s most adamant doves almost from the moment he joined in 2016.

The Fed last week confirmed that rate hikes are on hold for now after four increases in its policy rate in 2018, citing an economic slowdown. Markets immediately reacted by betting that the Fed’s next move would likely be a cut and investors also pushed down short-term bond yields to a level that in past years has presaged a recession. But Kashkari said he wants to wait for more evidence.

“Part of what the bond market is doing is trying to psychoanalyze the Fed,” he said.

“If they’re looking at us and then we’re looking at them very quickly we can start chasing our tail.”

Reporting by Ann Saphir and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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