February 4, 2019 / 6:10 AM / 12 days ago

Fed's Kashkari: Rate hike pause keeps U.S. growth on track

(Reuters) - The Federal Reserve’s decision to stop raising interest rates puts a “fundamentally healthy” U.S. economy on track to further growth, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari suggested on Sunday.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari speaks during an interview at Reuters in New York February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“I think we still have room to run in the U.S. economy,” Kashkari said at a town hall at a church in Long Lake, Minnesota.

“The U.S. economy is fundamentally healthy,” he added. The event was closed, but an audio recording was distributed afterward.

“We at the Fed cannot control if Europe has a crisis, or if China has a hard landing, but we can control our own mistakes; so if we can avoid tapping the brakes prematurely, I think the expansion can continue.”

Last week, the Fed discarded a promise to keep raising rates, and instead pledged patience on further policy change. The dovish shift was cheered by financial markets, but sounded to some analysts like a warning of economic weakness ahead. [nL1N1ZV1E8]

The decision also appeared to deliver President Donald Trump what he had been demanding in tweets and interviews for the past several months - a stop to what he termed the Fed’s “crazy” round of interest rate hikes that in his view were undercutting the growth he has sought to foster.

The Fed has been raising rates since December 2015, including four times last year, to a current range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.

Kashkari’s comments put a positive spin on last week’s decision.

“I think there are more people out there who want to work; let’s let the economy continue to strengthen and if we see signs then, wages pick up, inflation picks up, we can always tap the brakes then; let’s just not tap the brakes prematurely,” Kashkari said.

It is a view Kashkari has staked out repeatedly over the past couple of years, but only recently has it been adopted by his policy-setting colleagues.

There are some risks, including slowing growth in China and confusion surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union, he said. Optimism fueled early last year by Trump’s hefty tax cuts has eroded amid mounting concern over trade tariffs, Kashkari said, keeping some businesses from making investments.

Still, he said, the U.S. economic outlook was strong. As long as there are no signs the economy is overheating, he said, the Fed should not risk pushing short-term rates above long-term ones, creating a so-called inverted yield curve that would herald a recession.

Reporting by Ann Saphir in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Peter Cooney

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