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Surging inflation piles pressure on central bank

HOUSTON: Federal Reserve (Fed) officials may debate a historic one percentage-point rate hike later this month after another searing inflation report piled pressure on the central bank to act.

“Everything is in play,” Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic told reporters in St Petersburg, Florida, after US consumer prices rose a faster-than-forecast 9.1% in the year through June.

Asked if that included raising rates by a full percentage point, he replied, “it would mean everything”.

Investors bet that the Fed is more likely than not to raise interest rates by 100 basis points (bps) when it meets July 26-27.

This would be the largest increase since the Fed started directly using overnight interest rates to conduct monetary policy in the early 1990s.

Americans are furious over high prices, and critics blame the Fed for its initial slow response.

Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, speaking in an interview on Bloomberg Television, declined to say if she favoured going bigger at the July meeting, noting there were important data releases between now and then.

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But she said there was “no reason” for raising rates by less than the 75 bps that policy makers delivered last month.

“What I take from the report, and it was uniformly bad – there was no good news in that report at all – is that inflation remains at an unacceptably high level,” she said.

“We at the Fed have to be very deliberate and intentional about continuing on this path of raising our interest rate until we get and see convincing evidence that inflation has turned a corner.”

San Francisco Fed chief Mary Daly, speaking in a separate interview with the New York Times, said, “My most likely posture is 0.75, because of the data I’ve seen.”

She added that she had expected the consumer price index or CPI number to be high: “I saw that data and thought: This isn’t good news. Wasn’t expecting good news.”

The Fed has turned aggressively against inflation, after being blamed for its initially slow response, roiling financial markets and increasing the risk that its actions could tip the US economy into recession.

Both Bostic and Mester pushed back against the idea of a trade-off between inflation and employment, arguing that they had to deliver price stability, even if that hurts the labour market.

Bloomberg Economics economists Anna Wong and Andrew Husby said, “The Fed is right to worry about the unmooring of inflation expectations – and this report raises the chance of an even larger rate hike than 75 bps down the line.”

Given the acceleration in monthly inflation, economists at Nomura Securities International now expect a full percentage-point increase in the Fed’s benchmark rate at the upcoming policy meeting.

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