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Federal Reserve’s Barkin says businesses would welcome higher interest rates

The U.S. economy is ready for interest rate increases to control rampant inflation, Richmond Federal Reserve President Thomas Barkin said Monday.

With the Fed poised to start hiking rates in March and beyond, Barkin told CNBC in a live interview that tighter monetary policy is appropriate. However, he didn’t commit to how aggressive the central bank might be.

“I’d like the Fed to get better positioned. I think we’ve got a good part of the year to get there,” he said on “Closing Bell.” “I think how fast we go just depends on how the economy develops.”

Financial markets, however, are expecting the Fed to move quickly.

Current futures pricing indicates a strong possibility of five 0.25% increases in the benchmark short-term borrowing rate. There’s even about a one-in-three chance that the Fed could hike six times, according to CME calculations through its FedWatch Tool. Bank of America economists said Friday they forecast seven increases this year.

Those expectations come with inflation running at its highest level in nearly 40 years. The Fed uses interest rates to raise the cost of money and slow the pace of the economy, which had its fastest single-year growth spurt since 1984 a year ago.

Barkin said it’s been his experience that at least for those in the business community, the rate increases will be welcomed.

“As I talk to participants in the economy, what I hear is they actually want us to do something now about inflation. They’d like us to get back to at least a normal interest-rate posture and not be simulating more demand on top of normal levels,” he said. “So, I don’t hear much resistance to that.”

He spoke the same day as two of his fellow regional presidents, Mary Daly of San Francisco and Esther George of Kansas City, also voiced support for tighter policy. Part of that tightening is interest rates. The other part deals with the Fed’s monthly bond purchases, which are set to end in March, and the holdings of those bonds, which have eclipsed $8 trillion.

Following their meeting last week, Fed officials said they expect to run down the assets on their balance sheet aggressively.

In a speech she delivered earlier in the day to The Economic Club of Indiana, George said running off the balance sheet more quickly might allow the Fed to enact fewer rate hikes.

“What we do on the balance sheet will likely affect the path of policy rates and vice versa,” George said. “For example, more aggressive action on the balance sheet could allow for a shallower path for the policy rate.”

Daly said during a Reuters forum that the Fed is “not behind the curve at all” when it comes to fighting inflation. However, she also said it’s time to start easing the throttle on the most accommodative monetary policy in the central bank’s history.

“If the economy progresses like I see it progressing, then it is clear that it can stand on its own two feet, that we do not need to be providing the same level of extraordinary … accommodation that we provided during the pandemic and have provided for the last two years,” she said.

None of the Fed officials would commit to a schedule, though many on Wall Street think each of the Fed’s seven remaining meetings this year will be “live,” or subject to policy moves.

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