Two Federal Reserve officials on Friday stressed there will be no rush to roll back the U.S. central bank's super-easy monetary policy with the labor market still healing and inflation expectations largely in check.
William Dudley, head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and one of the Fed's most powerful policy makers, said the U.S. labor market is improving but the economy still has a considerable way to go before returning to health.
Earlier on Friday, data showed U.S. payrolls grew by a more-than-expected 244,000 jobs in April.
While the exact pace of a jobs market recovery is always hard to predict, we were expecting the rate of job growth to pick up over the first half, and I am hopeful that job growth will continue to strengthen in the coming months, he said.
Dudley, seen as one of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's closest allies on the U.S. central bank's policy-setting committee, has been consistently dovish on monetary policy, arguing that low inflation and high unemployment continue to justify the U.S. central bank's super-easy monetary policy.
Speaking at a quarterly media briefing on the regional economy, he did not comment directly on policy but his remarks suggest he is in no hurry to reverse course.
Dudley said even if the U.S. economy added 300,000 jobs a month from now on, we would likely still have considerable labor market slack at the end of 2012.
Unemployment, which ticked higher to 9.0 percent in April from 8.8 percent in March, is likely to remain stubbornly high for many months, he said.
Separately, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the Fed should keep interest rates on hold for some time after it completes its bond buying to assess its impact on the economy.
This gives the committee more time to assess economic conditions, he said, speaking to a group of business executives in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Fed has kept interest rates at near zero since December 2008 and has bought more than $2 trillion in long-term securities to push borrowing costs still lower. The Fed plans to complete its current round of bond-buying in June.
Bullard had taken a hawkish tone in March, urging the Fed to cut short its bond buying by $100 billion. Officials have also offered differing views on whether soft economic growth or inflation pose the biggest risk, suggesting a debate over when and how the Fed should embark on a tightening cycle.
Dudley and Bullard also commented on the recent spike in oil and commodity prices with Bullard saying he was not too worried that it would hurt the economy in any significant way.
Increases in oil prices like the ones we have recently experienced have occurred many times in the past without seeming to have much effect on the economy, Bullard said.
Although Dudley flagged the high prices as a potential risk that could constrain overall consumer spending more than anticipated, he said the key question will be if the run-up turns out to be transitory, which he expects it will.
He said measures of inflation expectations now remain stable overall.
A Reuters poll found economists had raised forecasts for inflation this year but even so a vast majority of those polled expected the U.S. central bank to hold rates at the current level of near zero through 2011.
In response to a reporter's question, Dudley said he was hesitant to project the economic impact of the sudden slide in oil and many other commodities prices this week.
After global political turmoil sent oil prices surging to highs not seen since 2008, oil prices plummeted 10 percent on Thursday and were extending losses on Friday.
Fed policymakers are trying to distinguish between increases in more visible prices such as food and gasoline and a broader underlying trend of cost rises that could prompt higher interest rates.
Bullard urged policymakers to focus not just on so-called core inflation but also on the overall numbers that better reflect the everyday experience of consumers.
Headline inflation is the ultimate objective of monetary policy with respect to prices, Bullard said.
The consumer price index jumped 2.7 percent in the 12 months to March, but the core reading rose just 1.2 percent in the same period.
The Fed's near zero interest rates and massive stimulus program have been blamed for pushing huge flows of money into high-yielding emerging markets, causing their currencies to surge and raising fears of economic overheating.
Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen said controls on capital inflows may be appropriate in some instances.
Countries may need to employ a variety of tools to effectively manage capital flows, Yellen said at a Bank of Finland conference in Helsinki.
Some countries, from Brazil to Indonesia, have introduced a range of measures to slow inflows.
(Additional reporting by Al Yoon, Suzi Parker and Mark Felsenthal)