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Top Fed official sees need for more interest rate increases

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Federal Reserve official said Friday that there has been little progress on inflation for more than a year and that more interest rate hikes are needed to get prices under control.

Christopher Waller, a member of the Fed’s governing board, did not specify how many more increases he supports, but said that inflation “is still much too high and so my job is not done.”

Last month, inflation slowed as food and gas prices fell, but excluding those volatile categories, “core” prices kept rising and are 5.6% higher than a year ago. Waller pointed out that core prices have risen at about that same pace, or higher, since December 2021.

Waller’s comments expressing support for more rate hikes follow a forecast by the Fed’s staff economists, revealed in Fed minutes Wednesday, for a “mild recession” later this year.

Waller said that, like most of his colleagues, he is closely watching whether the collapse of two large banks last month will lead to a broad cut back in lending by the banking system, which could slow the economy.

But so far it’s not clear how large the impact will be, he said, and job growth remains strong and inflation is far above the Fed’s 2% target, “so monetary policy needs to be tightened further.”

His comments, delivered in San Antonio, Texas, echo those of several of his colleagues, who have said in recent weeks that they support at least one more rate hike. That would put the Fed’s benchmark rate at about 5.1%, the highest in 16 years.

Waller also underscored that he supported keeping the Fed’s benchmark rate elevated for much longer than investors expect. Traders in interest-rate futures expect that the central bank will lift rates one last time at the Fed’s next meeting in May, and then cut them three times by the end of the year, according to the CME Fedwatch tool.

Those expectations likely reflect an assumption that the economy will tumble into a recession, forcing the Fed to pivot toward lower interest rates.

Waller, however, said that the slow progress on inflation meant that, “Monetary policy will need to remain tight for a substantial period of time, and longer than markets anticipate.”

Still, Waller did express some optimism, particularly about signs in Wednesday’s inflation report that showed rental price growth is finally slowing, after months of sharp gains. The number of new apartments under construction is at historically high levels and vacancies have ticked up, pushing developers to lower rents on new apartment leases.

Waller said as those trends continue to feed into government rental price data, inflation will fall further. By the end of this year it could reach as low as 3% to 3.5%, he said.

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