Fed's Williams: View on right number of rate hikes little changed

John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, speaks during an interview with Reuters in San Francisco, California December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

SAN RAMON, Calif. (Reuters) - San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Wednesday there has been no substantial change in his outlook on the U.S. economy or his opinion on the number of times the Fed should raise interest rates this year and next.

“I am not going to opine whether we should have one fewer (rate hike) or the same as before,” Williams said when asked about his view on the appropriate number of rate hikes this year.

“It is really just the tactics, how many rate increases this year versus next year. It’s not a fundamentally different view of the economy,” he told reporters after a speech in San Ramon, California. “I am not saying it would be exactly the same thing but the difference would be pretty modest.”

The Fed raised U.S. interest rates in December for the first time in almost a decade, and signaled that it would probably raise rates four more times this year, a gradual pace by historical standards. At the time, Williams said his view of the right pace of rate hikes was in line with that outlook.

Striking an optimistic tone that stands in contrast with some of his more cautious colleagues, Williams on Wednesday said he is not worried that the global economic slowdown, stock-market sell-off and the oil price slide since the beginning of the year will knock the U.S. recovery off its tracks or send the economy into recession.

Indeed, he said, he expects the U.S. domestic economy to power through weakness abroad, with growth in services making up for any slowdown in manufacturing.

The Fed in January said it needed more time to assess global developments and their effect on the U.S. economy before offering an assessment of the balance of risks to the outlook, a move that many economists interpreted signaling perhaps fewer rate hikes this year than had been expected.

Earlier this week an influential Fed official said his own view of the balance of risks was starting to tilt to the downside, a sentiment that Williams did not echo on Wednesday.

“We are not very good as economists or forecasters at assessing risks,” he said, adding that he is comfortable with not describing the balance of risks in any one sentence in the Fed’s post-meeting statements.

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama