Fed can lower rates if U.S.-China trade spat causes slowdown - Rosengren

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve has the tools it needs, including lowering interest rates, to respond to any slowdown resulting from the U.S.-China trade spat, a top Fed policymaker told Reuters on Monday, adding that he is not necessarily expecting such a need now.

File Photo: The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's President and CEO Eric S. Rosengren speaks in New York, April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Keith Bedford/File Photo

“If the impact of the tariffs - and whatever financial market reaction to those tariffs is - causes more of a slowdown, then we do have the tools available to us, including lower interest rates, not that I’m necessarily expecting this will generate the need to do that,” said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren.

Rosengren, who votes on the Fed’s rate-setting committee this year, suggested the Fed’s current stance on rates may not need to change.

“It’s hard for the Fed to react until we have better information, so in terms of us viewing our policies as being patient, I’m not sure this alters our view of that until we have a better sense of whether this is going to have more long-lasting effects,” he said.

On Monday, Beijing said it plans to set import tariffs ranging from 5% to 25% on 5,140 U.S. products on a revised $60 billion target list. It said the tariffs will take effect on June 1.

China’s retaliatory measure followed Washington’s tariff increase on $200 billion of Chinese imports on Friday as talks between the world’s two biggest economies broke down. U.S. President Donald Trump has said the Chinese government backtracked on commitments it made during months of negotiations. [nL2N22P0A6]

Analysts worry the tension between two nations will spiral into a trade war that would harm the global economy.

Rosengren said a full analysis is premature and that it is not yet even clear how much of the new tariffs would even take effect.

Rosengren spoke on the sidelines of one of several events around the United States where the Fed’s regional banks have been collecting opinions from small businesses, community groups and other people on how monetary policy could better meet public needs.

The central bank is undergoing a policy review that, among other changes, could see the central bank welcome inflation that is slightly and temporarily above its 2% target to lower the chances that it will run out of policy options as rates near zero.

One of the Fed’s options at such a point is to use its ability to buy bonds as it did in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

The Fed said in March it would stop scaling back those bond holdings by September if the economy and market evolved “about as expected.”

In the Reuters interview, Rosengren said the schedule could change if the policymakers learn any new information about how much demand banks have for funds held in safekeeping at the Fed. Those reserves grew when the Fed created funds to purchase bonds after the crisis but have been running down in more recent months as the Fed worked to restore policy to a more normal stance.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Jonathan Oatis