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Economic Report: Fed’s George not ready to dismiss signals of higher inflation

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Kansas City Fed President Esther George on Monday said she won’t automatically look past recent higher inflation readings.

“While it is clear that temporary factors are boosting inflation now, I am not inclined to dismiss today’s pricing signals,” George said, in a speech at her district bank’s agricultural symposium.

Inflation over the year ended in April increased 4.2% as measured by the consumer price index. It wasn’t clear what this pace means for the medium-term inflation outlook, she said.

“Over the long term, the outlook for inflation is influenced by demand that is sufficiently strong across a wide range of goods and services that it pushes the
overall economy up against its productive capacity. In the near term, it can be difficult to distinguish between a string of seemingly idiosyncratic bottlenecks and a broader-based lack of capacity,” she said.

George, who has been one of the most hawkish Fed regional-bank presidents, said the central bank also can’t rely on inflation returning to the low levels seen in recent years.

Inflation “has played a relatively minor role in the day-to-day decision-making of businesses and consumers,” and it is important to make sure that trend continues, she said.

“Maintaining this state of affairs as we seek to achieve our objectives for maximum employment and price stability will be important,” George said.

The Fed has been buying $120 billion of Treasurys and mortgaged-backed securities each month, along with keeping its policy interest rate close to zero in order to help the economy strengthen.

George said the Fed faces a challenging decision about the appropriate time to adjust this accommodative policy stance.

She said policymakers must be “flexible” and “nimble,” but didn’t provide her preferred timeline.

George echoed former Treasury Secretary Larry Summer’s warning that the two stimulus packages passed by Congress in the past six months could alter the outlook in ways in which the Fed might have to exit its easy policy stance at a faster pace than it anticipated.

“With a tremendous amount of fiscal stimulus flowing through the economy, the landscape could unfold quite differently than the one that shaped the thinking around the revised monetary policy framework,” George said.

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finished higher Monday, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note
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moved down to its lowest level in two weeks.

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