Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said an interest-rate increase would “likely be appropriate” at the central bank’s upcoming meeting if employment and inflation continue to meet policy makers’ expectations.
“At our meeting later this month, the Committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate,” Yellen said in prepared remarks to be delivered Friday at the Executives’ Club of Chicago.
The Fed will announce whether it’s raising rates on March 15 following a two-day meeting in Washington. A March 10 employment report is the most significant data report standing between officials and decision day, and economists expect a solid 190,000 payrolls gain in February. The central bank will get a Consumer Price Index inflation reading the day of its meeting, but won’t get another look at its preferred inflation index until March 31.
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Markets see a 92 percent chance of a rate hike this month, up from just 40 percent a week ago, after top Fed officials including New York Fed President William Dudley and Governor Lael Brainard signaled they’re willing to lift rates soon. Inflation and employment data have been meeting policy makers’ expectations and growth abroad is either stable or slowly improving, clearing the way for gradual increases.
“I currently see no evidence that the Federal Reserve has fallen behind the curve, and I therefore continue to have confidence in our judgment that a gradual removal of accommodation is likely to be appropriate,” Yellen said Friday. However, “unless unanticipated developments adversely affect the economic outlook, the process of scaling back accommodation likely will not be as slow as it was during the past couple of years.”
At the start of 2016, central bankers expected to make four rate increases, but a slump in first-quarter economic data and market volatility coming from abroad kept them on hold until December, when they squeezed in their one and only hike. That followed a single increase in 2015.