May 16, 2018 / 10:13 PM / 3 months ago

Bullard says Fed's inflation framework warrants review

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - There is “a lot of support” among U.S. policymakers to review the central bank’s inflation target, a key benchmark in setting monetary policy, even though the process may well lead to little change in the Fed’s current approach, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said on Wednesday.

There has been increasing debate within the Fed over whether it is time to review the central bank’s 2 percent inflation target, unchanged since it was first adopted in 2012.

“People would like to at least have a discussion” about whether the 2 percent inflation goal should be changed, or an alternative system for managing inflation adopted, Bullard said in comments to reporters before an annual hosted lecture at the St. Louis Fed. “There are issues that should be aired and discussed. Even if you reaffirm your given framework I think that is best practice.”

Controlling inflation, along with encouraging full employment, is a core mandate of the Fed. And the Fed, like many other major central banks, feels that announcing a specific inflation target helps to achieve that goal by framing public expectations about where inflation and interest rates are heading.

Bullard said that such a review would best be conducted “while the sky is blue” rather than amid economic weakness or signs of crisis, a reference to the U.S. economy’s steady growth and strong employment levels.

Several of the Fed’s 12 regional bank presidents have publicly called for a broad review of the 2 percent inflation target, including the incoming president of the New York Fed, John Williams, who will also serve as a Fed vice chair and be a permanent voter on the central bank’s policy-setting committee.

Such a review would examine possible alternative frameworks. Those include using a range instead of a precise number for the target, or adopting a system that pledges to make up for years of inflation that is too low with similar “misses” in the other direction - leaving the overall level of prices on a steady path.

There is no clear favorite among the alternatives, and some of the policymakers who support a review have also acknowledged that any attempt to change the current system may be more trouble than it is worth. But policymakers including Williams have pointed favorably to a system adopted by the Bank of Canada that reviews its inflation target on a five-year schedule.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Leslie Adler

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