Fed's Dudley dismisses negative US rates, sees economic momentum

NEW YORK (Reuters) - While recently tighter U.S. financial conditions will factor into the Federal Reserve’s upcoming policy decisions, it is “extraordinarily premature” to even talk about using negative interest rates to stimulate the economy, a top Fed official said on Friday.

William Dudley, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, addresses the Economic Club of New York at a luncheon in the Manhattan borough of New York City, in this November 12, 2015, file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar

“To me, that’s not something that should be part of the conversation right now,” New York Fed President William Dudley told reporters at a news conference, when asked about possible use of negative rates.

The U.S. economy has “quite a bit” of momentum that will help offset weakness from abroad, he said, even as he acknowledged he now expects inflation to take a bit longer to return to the Fed’s 2-percent target because of the drag from the falling price of oil.

And while there has been “a significant tightening over the last few months” in U.S. financial conditions, he said, “you have to apply a little nuance: while the stock market has declined quite significantly, in recent weeks we’ve seen the dollar actually weaken a bit and we’ve seen Treasury yields fall quite sharply. So even within financial conditions you can’t say it’s all going in one direction.”

In December the Fed raised rates for the first time since the financial crisis. In January it held off raising them further, flagging growing risks from a slowdown abroad and unsettled financial markets, despite a strengthening domestic labor market.

Dudley’s remarks suggest the Fed is still gauging how much of a signal to take from a stock market selloff that some analysts said could suggest a recession is around the corner.

“If financial conditions tighten and that tightening turns out to be persistent then we’ll have to take that into account in terms of monetary policy conditions,” Dudley said. “I view that what we have been observing is not really reflecting developments so much in the United States as developments abroad,” he said, adding that questions remain about growth in China and resilience among emerging market economies.

Global developments and financial conditions “will very much factor into our decision when we get to our next FOMC meeting.”

Fed Chair Janet Yellen was repeatedly asked about the possibility of negative interest rates in her two days of Congressional testimony this week, fueling speculation over the degree to which it is a tool the Fed is actively considering. Several European central banks have pushed rates into negative territory to give an added boost to their economies, and the Bank of Japan recently followed suit.

Dudley threw cold water on the idea of the Fed doing the same.

“I just find that an extraordinarily premature conversation to be having,” he said.

Fed policy is “appropriately quite accommodative” given the low level of inflation, which poses little threat to a U.S. economic expansion, he said.

His comments were largely in synch with those of Yellen, who in recent days has signaled the Fed will continue tightening policy gradually if U.S. economic data remains stable, a view bolstered earlier Friday by a report of a solid rebound last month in retail sales.

Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; writing by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama