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Fed’s Barkin backs tapering plans and expresses concern about inflation

Fed’s Barkin backs tapering plans and expresses concern about inflation

15 Oct 2021

Richmond Federal Reserve President Thomas Barkin said Friday he’s on board with reducing the amount of economic help the central bank is providing as concerns grow about inflation.

With the Fed indicating that it’s likely to start pulling back on its monthly bond purchases, Barkin said that seems reasonable and he’s leaning toward beginning the process in November. Minutes from the September Fed meeting indicated that officials want to start tapering either next month or in December.

“If we do decide to taper at the next meeting, we’re going to have a discussion on which of those two dates, I’m sure, and my instinct would be if you’re going to decide it, go ahead and move,” he told CNBC’s Steve Liesman during a live “Squawk Box” interview. “But I’m certainly going to be open to debates on both sides.”

Fed officials have indicated they’ve met their inflation goal of 2%, though the full and inclusive employment part of the mandate remains elusive despite significant progress.

Like many of his colleagues, Barkin pointed to temporary factors like supply chain problems that have pushed car prices higher as a major factor in driving inflation, which is running around a 30-year high.

But he also conceded that it’s been a bigger problem that he expected.

“I do think there’s risk on the inflation side, and I’m watching that very carefully,” he said.

The minutes showed that the pace of bond purchases likely will slow by about $15 billion each month – $10 billion in Treasurys and $5 billion in mortgage-backed securities.

Fed officials have stressed that even after the start of tapering, it will be some time before interest rate hikes begin. Market pricing currently is for the first increase to come in July 2022, with another likely before the end of the year, according to the CME’s FedWatch tracker.

Barkin said he would base his rates decision on two factors – whether inflation is going to stay elevated or come back to its norm of around 1.5% to 2% of the past 25 years or so, and how close the labor market is to full employment.

“Is the labor market going to be this tight over the next six months? Is inflation going to come down or not?” he said. “Different answers to those questions in my mind would lead me to different points of view on when we would start to increase rates.”

He also was asked his position on whether Fed officials should be allowed to own individual stocks, but declined to answer pending an inquiry Chairman Jerome Powell is leading into best practices. Several officials have come under fire for trading stocks, and two regional presidents have resigned following controversies over their activities.

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