U.S. inflation is still below the central bank's comfort levels and price rises for individual goods or services does not signal broader price pressures are around the corner, a top Federal Reserve policymaker said on Tuesday.
Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said the central bank cannot address rises in the cost of living, but needs to ensure prices overall remain stable.
For the moment, inflation, properly defined, is tame, in my view. And the rise of individual prices does not signal incipient inflation, Lockhart told the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Underlying inflation is currently below the level that I would define as price stability, he said.
Lockhart said he expects core inflation to rise gradually, to within the Fed's informal 2 percent target range by 2013.
Some analysts have blamed the Fed's easy money policy for flooding the global economy with money and helping to drive prices for food and other commodities higher.
While headline inflation has picked up in the United States, core inflation has held near a five-decade low.
Lockhart drew a clear distinction between inflation -- which affects all prices -- and increases in the cost of living due to rises in individual prices.
The Fed, like every other central bank, is powerless to prevent fluctuations in the cost of living and increases of individual prices. We do not produce oil. Nor do we grow food or provide health care, he said.
Inflation below its comfort level was a reason the Fed embarked on a second round of bond buying in November. Lockhart said the $600 billion program is already working.
Over the last months of the year, in anticipation of the policy move, the probability of deflation, as measured by Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) began to decline, fears of a double-dip recession started to fade, and equity prices resumed their climb, he said.
Lockhart said it is unlikely jobs growth will be strong enough in 2011 to generate quick improvement.
At its January 27 meeting, the Fed said high unemployment still justified its bond-buying plan even though the economy has shown some signs of improvement.
Regional Fed presidents rotate voting on monetary policy. Lockhart will next vote in 2012. Lockhart's view was in line with his previous comments.
He said he expects a moderate rate of growth in 2011, but reiterated that he sees the recovery to be fitful.
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke; Editing by Neil Stempleman)