Clarida reiterates that the Fed is not locked into a set interest rate path

Richard Clarida, Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, during the annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on August 23, 2019.

Gerard Miller | CNBC

Federal Reserve policymakers don’t have their minds made up about where interest rate policy is headed and will weigh conditions as they unfold, central bank Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said Friday.

With the Fed less than two weeks away from a meeting at which markets expect another rate cut, Clarida said decisions will be made based on risks to an economy he said is on solid ground.

“Looking ahead, monetary policy is not on a preset course, and the Committee will proceed on a meeting-by-meeting basis to assess the economic outlook as well as the risks to the outlook, and it will act as appropriate to sustain growth, a strong labor market, and a return of inflation to our symmetric 2 percent objective,” he said in prepared remarks for a speech in Boston.

The policymaking Federal Open Market Committee has approved two reductions this year, bringing its benchmark overnight lending rate to a target range of 1.75% to 2%. Market pricing indicates an 89% chance of another move at the Oct. 29-30 FOMC meeting.

However, Fed officials have been trying to dissuade markets from assuming the committee is intent on longer-run pattern of policy easing. 

Following July’s rate cut, Fed Chair Jerome Powell characterized the move as a “midcycle adjustment.” Minutes from the September reduction indicated that some members felt the market was anticipating a “greater provision of accommodation” than the committee intends.

Clarida noted that while the Fed is intent on keeping growth going, he views current conditions as being positive.

“The U.S. economy is in a good place, and the baseline outlook is favorable,” he said, while noting that the U.S. “economy confronts some evident risks in this the 11th year of economic expansion” such as a slowdown in business investment, exports and manufacturing. 

“Global growth estimates continue to be marked down, and global disinflationary pressures cloud the outlook for U.S. inflation,” he added.

Committee members at the September meeting indicated they see no additional rate cuts this year or in 2020, to be followed by a rate hike in each of the next two years. Markets strongly disagree, with current pricing indicating a long-run funds rate around 1.24%, or half the FOMC’s projection of 2.5%. 

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