(Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said low U.S. inflation, while probably restrained by temporary factors, remains a concern as the labor market nears a sweet spot.
“A large part of the current inflation is temporary,” Fischer said in an interview Monday with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television. After the effects of cheaper oil and other raw materials dissipate, “these things will stabilize at some point, so we’re not going to be as low as we are forever.”
Fischer’s remarks indicate that while he’s pleased with progress on employment, he may be waiting for signs inflation will start moving up toward the central bank’s target. The Federal Open Market Committee meets Sept. 16-17 for a gathering at which many investors and economists expect it will raise interest rates for the first time in almost 10 years.
“Employment has been rising pretty fast relative to previous performance, and yet inflation is very low,” he said. “And the concern about this situation is not to move before we see inflation, as well as employment, returning to more normal levels.”
Traders were pricing in a 52 percent probability that the Fed raises rates at the September meeting as of 3:54 p.m. New York time, based on the assumption that the effective federal funds rate will average 0.375 percent after liftoff. The odds were 54 percent late Friday.
In a speech Monday afternoon, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said “I think the point of liftoff is close,” even if there’s no “foreordained date.” Lockhart, a voting FOMC member this year, told the Atlanta Press Club that “the incoming numbers will dictate the timing of the decision.”
In their statement after their July meeting, Fed officials said they believe an increase will be warranted once there has been “some further improvement in the labor market.” A Labor Department report Aug. 7 showed employers added 215,000 jobs last month, in line with the 211,000 average monthly gain so far this year. The jobless rate held at 5.3 percent, average weekly hours inched up and the underemployment rate edged down. The August jobs report is scheduled to be released Sept. 4.
Fischer, a former head of the Bank of Israel, acknowledged that inflation had become the greater concern for policy makers.
“The problem is not with the part that’s unusual in the dual mandate, namely employment, that’s doing just fine,” Fischer, 71, said. “It’s with the inflation part.”
The Fed is looking for signs that inflation will strengthen toward its 2 percent goal before it starts to increase rates. Policy makers’ preferred gauge of prices has been below target for more than three years, climbing by 0.3 percent in the year through June.