Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
Sabrina Korber | CNBC
The Federal Reserve doesn’t need to cut interest rates to boost inflation, Kansas City Fed President Esther George said in a speech Tuesday.
In fact, George said, low inflation is of little concern to anyone but financial market participants and economists who fear that the central bank is undershooting its 2 percent target and thus should ease policy to boost activity.
“As I listen to business and community leaders around my region, I hear few complaints about inflation being too low. In fact, I am more likely to hear disbelief when I mention that inflation is as low as measured in a number of key sectors,” she said during a speech in Minneapolis. “This leads me to the observation that inflation as experienced by households and businesses is fundamentally different from inflation as viewed by financial market participants and many economists.”
Her comments come amid a public debate that has seen President Donald Trump repeatedly push the Fed to lower its benchmark interest rate from its current target range of 2.25% to 2.5%. As recently as Tuesday morning, the president tweeted that the Fed should cut rates to keep pace with China’s central bank loosening its monetary policy.
George identified the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China along with slower growth abroad as the two biggest threats to the U.S. economy. But she said things look good otherwise in the U.S., and she’s not very concerned with an inflation rate that the Fed’s preferred gauge currently puts around 1.6%.
Most people and business owners look at costs like gasoline, food, housing costs and health care and see prices that continue to rise, George said. In that light, she sees little reason to cut rates now. She worries that a rate reduction would limit the Fed’s policy flexibility in the event of an economic downturn.
“The current level of inflation may perplex central bankers and financial market participants, but in the context of a growing economy and job gains, it doesn’t demand a Fed policy response in my view,” she said.
George also noted the Fed’s struggles in trying to nudge inflation back up to 2% but said she generally supports the target even if inflation is allowed to move half a point in either direction. George is a voting member this year on the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee.