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Two Fed policymakers sound inflation alarm, call for rate cuts

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Two Fed policymakers sound inflation alarm, call for rate cuts
FILE PHOTO: President of the Federal Reserve Bank on Minneapolis Neel Kashkari speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo   -   Copyright  Shannon Stapleton(Reuters)
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By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Two U.S. central bankers on Friday sounded the alarm on sluggish U.S. inflation and called for immediate action in response, in what amounted to a broadside against the slim majority of Federal Reserve policymakers who are disinclined to support interest rate cuts this year.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said in an essay he had argued for a 50 basis point interest-rate cut at this week’s policy-setting meeting. Such aggressive action is needed to re-anchor inflation expectations that have dropped below the Fed’s 2% target, he said.

The Fed left its target range for the policy rate unchanged at 2.25% to 2.5% at its latest two-day meeting, which concluded Wednesday.

Kashkari also called for the Fed to promise not to raise rates until core inflation, a measure that strips out volatile gas and food prices, returns to target in a sustained way.

“I believe the FOMC should take strong action to re-anchor inflation expectations at our 2 percent target and support strong job growth, higher wage growth, and sustained economic expansion,” said Kashkari, who does not have a vote on the Fed’s monetary policy committee this year.

In a separate statement released earlier in the day, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said he dissented at this week’s meeting because he felt weak inflation and uncertainties about the outlook for economic growth warranted an interest rate cut.

“Inflation measures have declined substantially since the end of last year and are presently running some 40 to 50 basis points below the FOMC’s 2% inflation target,” Bullard said.

The unusually strong remarks from the pair of policymakers, made on the first day that Fed policymakers are permitted to speak following a rate-setting meeting, underscores the deep divisions at the central bank over how to address slowing growth and inflation.

Economic projections from Fed policymakers released Wednesday showed eight of 19 thought they would need to cut interest rates by year’s end, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that more had seen the case for accommodation strengthen.

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida on Friday laid out the case for leaving rates where they are for now, though he said the Fed prepared to reduce interest rates if trade and other uncertainties put that outlook at risk.

“The economy’s baseline outlook is good — sustained growth, a strong labour market and inflation near our objective,” Clarida said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir and Howard Schneider; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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