Fed's Evans says no rate hikes needed before mid-2018

Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, poses for a photo in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Sluggish price increases in the United States give the Federal Reserve room to hold off on interest rate increases until at least mid-2018, Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said on Wednesday.

“If we get to that point and have more confidence that inflation is moving up sustainably, then further rate increases would be warranted,” Evans, who does not have a vote on rates this year but participates in the central bank’s policy debates, said in a speech at a banking conference.

Evans did have a vote on the Fed’s policy-setting committee last year and dissented in the Fed’s decision to raise rates in December because of his concerns over low U.S. inflation rates, which have been persistently below the Fed’s 2 percent target in recent years. Investors expect the Fed will raise rates in March and policymakers in December signaled three hikes would be warranted this year.

On Wednesday, he said he could still support “three or even four” rate increases in 2018 if inflation and other data suggested that would be needed. He told reporters after his speech that recent economic and financial market data suggest there are rising risks that inflation rates could rise. He pointed to rising wages and market-based measures of inflation expectations.

The U.S. economy appears to be on solid footing, Evans said, adding that he still expects inflation will hit the Fed’s 2 percent target by the end of 2019 or in 2020.

Reporting by Jason LangeEditing by Chizu Nomiyama