The risk of inflation is keeping the Federal Reserve from doing more to support the U.S. economy, even though the threats to price stability are reasonably contained at present, a Fed official said Thursday.
Though not expected, a further rise in oil prices could provoke sustained upward pressure on prices more generally, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart said in prepared remarks at the University of California Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project.
Lockhart, a voting member of the policy setting Federal Open Market Committee, noted that recent readings on retail prices are a little elevated due to a run-up in gasoline prices earlier in the year and higher energy costs appear to have caused a modest acceleration in other prices.
With inflation very close to the Fed's target of 2 percent, Lockhart seemed hesitant to support further bond buying in the near future -- even though unemployment remains high at 8.2 percent.
That said, Lockhart signaled that from his point of view, he expects the annual trend in prices will move back toward the 2 percent inflation rate over the course of the year.
The Fed's already done a lot to support the recovery, Lockhart stressed. Whether additional monetary policy actions should be used at this time to try to speed things up has to be balanced against the risks to the Fed's price stability objective that could accompany an overestimating of the amount of economic slack -- particularly labor market slack.
The Fed has bought $2.3 trillion of assets in two rounds of quantitative easing after cutting its benchmark rate close to zero in December 2008.
Lockhart has made it clear that he wasn't inclined to increase monetary policy accommodation, including more quantitative easing, now.
I'm a bit reticent at this point to pull the trigger on any new action, Lockhart said Tuesday on CNBC.
In describing the state of employment, Lockhart said job gains have grown at a pace similar to that seen in the last recovery, but from a deeper bottom.
Also commenting on inflation, the central banker said Wednesday at the 2012 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, that while the Fed has some wiggle room with inflation, if it goes above 3 percent or higher, that would leave him nervous.
In January, the Fed took the historic step of formally setting an inflation target of 2 percent. At the same time, it made a conditional pledge to keep interest rates exceptionally low until at least the end of 2014.