Fed's Lacker says oil price risks manageable

By @ibtimes on

Oil price gains to date do not pose a risk to the U.S. economy but they could prove nettlesome if they jump a lot higher or create an inflationary psychology, Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Jeffrey Lacker said on Friday.

I think the oil price rises we've seen so far don't pose a risk to the recovery, he told reporters after a speech on regulation.

Oil price changes could have the potential, if they were very large, for slowing the recovery, but we have a lot of experience and a lot of data on past instances, and I think it's a manageable risk, he added.

Lacker said that pass-through from higher food and energy prices into broader inflation is limited but that there is a danger that prices that consumers are keenly aware of -- such as what they pay for gasoline -- could spur fears of wider inflation, which ultimately could push prices up.

There's a risk that the high visibility of gasoline and food price increases would pose a little more risk for inflation dynamics this time than in the past, he said.

A rise in inflation expectations can be self-fulfilling if it leads businesses to raise prices and workers to demand higher wages. However, with the U.S. unemployment rate at 9 percent, many Fed officials do not see much scope for wage increases.

Yellen said she did not intend to provide any new information about the outlook for the economy or monetary policy in her speech.

Lacker, who is not a voter on the Fed's interest-rate setting panel this year, is known as one of the staunchest skeptics of the Fed's easy-money policies. His comments illustrate a likely course of debate at the Fed's meeting in mid-March over whether the biggest risk to the economy is a setback to the recovery or a surge in inflation.

Some Fed policymakers have suggested it might be time to reduce or taper off their $600 billion bond buying program in light of a strengthening recovery, but others feel higher oil prices could create headwinds to the recovery.

Oil prices retreated from 2-1/2-year peaks of almost $120 a barrel hit in London on Thursday to hover below $112 on Friday on Saudi efforts to plug supply gaps. However, turmoil in the Middle East and Northern Africa has added to worries about higher fuel prices and inflation risks around the world.

Another senior Fed official, Vice Chair Janet Yellen, said the Fed's long-term commitment to loose financial conditions will shift when the time comes for the central bank to withdraw its support for the U.S. economy.

Once the recovery is well established and the appropriate time for beginning to firm the stance of policy appears to be drawing near, the (Fed) will naturally need to adjust its 'extended period' guidance and develop an alternative communications strategy, she told the Booth School conference.

Yellen said she did not intend to provide any new information about the outlook for the economy or monetary policy in her speech.

Lacker also said stress tests for banks come at a cost but are valuable for preventing financial panics.

Quantifying the risks at large financial institutions is a complex and costly process that is vulnerable to manipulation, he said at the event sponsored by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

A disciplined and well organized supervisory process for validating those assessments strikes me as well worth the costs, he added.

However, Lacker said one of the outcomes of stress tests conducted in 2009 was to expand the level of bank liabilities under implicit government guarantee.

Lacker was defending the stress tests against a paper presented at the conference that argued the 2009-2010 stress tests in the United States and Europe have not brought about sufficient improvements in financial conditions.

(Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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