September 27, 2017 / 5:29 PM / a year ago

U.S. still on slow growth, low inflation track -Fed's Bullard

Sept 27 (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve has no need to raise interest rates anytime soon because U.S. economic growth will not rise appreciably over 2 percent this year and inflation will likely remain low, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Wednesday.

“Hopes for faster growth in the second half of 2017 have been tempered by weaker macroeconomic data and by hurricane damage,” Bullard said in prepared remarks for an appearance at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

Over the past month, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused substantial damage in Texas and Florida that could have a short-term economic impact in those areas.

While the economy should rebound in the fourth quarter as the damage is repaired, Bullard noted, it would unlikely be enough for economic growth to rise appreciably above levels seen in the last few years.

“The current level of the policy rate is appropriate given current macroeconomic data,” he said.

Bullard has argued for more than a year that the U.S. central bank has no reason to raise rates until the economy sees higher inflation and growth.

The Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation has retreated from the central bank’s 2 percent target for much of this year and currently stands at 1.4 percent. It has run below target since mid-2012.

On Tuesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged the central bank may have misjudged the extent of factors that have held down inflation but said gradual interest rate rises should continue given the overall health of the economy.

The Fed has raised rates twice this year on the back of low unemployment and steady economic growth. Bullard is not a voting member of the Fed’s rate-setting committee this year, but fully participates in its deliberations.

Many economists believe wages will increase and inflation will rise as the unemployment rate falls below its long-run rate.

Bullard, however, said the effects on inflation are “likely to be small” even if the unemployment rate drops substantially further.

Last week the Fed left interest rates unchanged but maintained its forecast for one more rate increase this year. Despite that decision, Fed policymakers have become increasingly vocal about their uncertainty on what is holding back inflation. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Paul Simao)

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