Fed's Barr: It's 'smart' to slow pace of rate hikes

An eagle tops the U.S. Federal Reserve building's facade in Washington
An eagle tops the U.S. Federal Reserve building's facade in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Dec 1 (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Vice Chair of Supervision Michael Barr on Thursday signaled that he is among U.S. central bankers backing a slowdown in the pace of interest rate hikes as soon as the Fed's Dec. 13-14 meeting.

"Now we're at a point, since I believe we're in restrictive territory, that we can get to a sufficiently restrictive rate at a slower pace," Barr said at the American Enterprise Institute. "I imagine we're going to be considering this. And I think that's smart; it'll give us space to begin to modulate a bit and then think about, again, what that rate is, how high it needs to be, how long we need to keep it at that rate in order to get the job done."

The Fed raised its policy rate in 75-basis-point increments at each of its last four meetings, bringing the short-term overnight lending rate to a 3.75%-4% range in the steepest set of rate increases since the 1980s.

The sharply higher borrowing costs are aimed at slowing the economy, curbing demand and easing price pressures that have pushed inflation by the Fed's preferred gauge to 6%, triple its 2% target.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday signaled the central bank would likely raise rates by a smaller half-a-percentage point at its next meeting, as policymakers find their way to a sufficiently restrictive level to bring down inflation without going too far and crashing the economy with overly tight policy.

Barr's comments aligned closely with Powell's, which sparked a stock-market surge as investors cheered what they heard as a dovish message that the current round of policy tightening would end sooner than thought.

Barr pushed back on that interpretation on Thursday, saying "it's a misreading to think about a change in the pace of increases as reflecting a change in the seriousness of the project" of bringing inflation down.

"I think that the rate is going to have to stay high for a long period of time, and that's because it's going to take us a long period of time to really bring inflation down to 2%," he said.

Most of the hour long event with Barr focused on financial supervision and the banking industry, his main focus as the Fed's top Wall Street regulator.

Reporting by Ann Saphir and Hannah Lang; Editing by Mark Porter and Diane Craft

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