Rising oil prices are unlikely to push up core inflation and thus should not trigger any interest-rate hikes from the U.S. Federal Reserve, according to research from a top Fed official on Monday.
Inflation fears have built in recent weeks as turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa have threatened to disrupt the supply of oil even as demand for energy builds from emerging economies. U.S. crude prices slipped on Monday on signs of progress in Libyan peace talks, but are still trading well above $110 a barrel CLc1.
While inflation did rise after the oil shocks of the 1970s, the increase was linked to lack of confidence in the ability of the Fed to keep inflation under control, wrote Chicago Fed president Charles Evans in the latest Chicago Fed Letter.
But Paul Volcker’s tenure as Fed chairman in the 1980s restored the central bank’s credibility by pushing through unpopular rate hikes, Evans said, and ever since, surprise increases in commodity prices have had little impact on overall inflation and have not triggered an aggressive policy response from the Fed.
“Of course, if commodity and energy prices were to lead to a general expectation of a broader increase in inflation, more substantial policy rate increases would be justified,” Evans said in the paper, which was co-authored by Chicago Fed researcher Jonas Fisher.
“But assuming there is a generally high degree of central-bank credibility, there is no reason for such expectations to develop — in fact, in the post-Volcker period, there have been no signs that they typically do.”
The Fed has kept short-term rates near zero for more than two years and has bought more than $2 trillion in long-term securities to push borrowing costs still lower.
Some Fed officials have warned that the Fed’s super-easy monetary policy has helped fuel a rise in food and fuel prices, and some have called for tighter monetary policy.
But Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has argued that any inflationary effects of oil price rises are likely to be transitory.
Evans, whose views are typically in line with those of Bernanke and other core members of the policy-setting meeting, said higher oil prices tend to slow economic growth – a result that argues for easy, not tighter, monetary policy.