Fed's Harker says he opposed last rate cut, thinks rates should stay put

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Patrick Harker said on Tuesday he did not support the Fed’s last rate cut in October and that the central bank should keep policy steady.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

“I’m of the mind that we stay put for now and see how things work out,” Harker said in New York during an event organized by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.

The policymaker said he thinks rates are currently neutral or “slightly accommodative” and that he doesn’t think lower rates will be enough to encourage spending by businesses being held back by trade uncertainty.

He said he expects the economy to grow slightly above trend and inflation to increase slowly to reach the Fed’s 2% target.

Harker previously said that he opposed the September rate cut and thought the committee should “hold firm” on policy. He does not currently have a vote on monetary policy but becomes a voting member next year.

Harker reiterated his view that there would be an “extremely high hurdle” for him to support negative interest rates. In the event that the economy hits a “major bump,” the Fed should first lower rates to zero, communicate that rates will stay low and then make asset purchases to stimulate the economy, Harker said.

“Negative rates, they may not be as effective as other tools that we have as a society, as a government, to deal with a negative shock,” he said.

Harker also said the Fed is working to understand the causes of the recent volatility in money markets. He said officials are looking into why the five financial institutions that hold roughly 80% of reserves did not lend in mid-September when a liquidity crunch sent short-term borrowing rates up. “If it is a regulatory issue then that needs to be fixed,” he said.

The heads of some big U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N CEO Jamie Dimon, have criticized Fed-imposed liquidity standards and said they played a role in causing market volatility by restricting how much banks could lend.

Harker said discussions about creating a standing repo facility, which would allow financial firms to borrow cash from the Fed as needed, are still ongoing.

“We’re committed to making the market work,” Harker told Reuters after the event, adding that the Fed’s efforts to calm markets by increasing the balance sheet and conducting temporary repo operations have been working. “Given that commitment, we have time to debate this fully before we make any decision on the long term.”

Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Andrea Ricci