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Fed's Bullard says rates can remain low through 2017

Reuters

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - U.S. interest rates can likely remain low through at least 2017, with no clear sense yet of whether the Trump administration's policies will spark higher inflation or growth, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said on Thursday.

Bullard said he feels that the Fed will only need to raise interest rates once this year, and indicated a move probably will not happen when the central banks meets in March.

There will not be enough information about the new administration's possible spending and tax plans at that point, he said.

"It is unlikely that fiscal uncertainty will be meaningfully resolved by the March meeting," said Bullard. "We don't have to move. We have a lot of fiscal uncertainty. Why not wait until that is more clearly resolved?"

Fed policymakers are trying to come to grips with how the new administration's stated plans, including tax cuts and limits on immigration, may change the U.S. economic outlook and force them to shift gears and raise interest rates faster than expected.

Bullard since last year has argued that the U.S. economy is stuck in a low-growth, low-inflation rut, and that there is no reason to push rates too much higher until it is clear that has changed.

That situation "has been many years in the making and is unlikely to turn around quickly," Bullard said in morning remarks at Washington University in St. Louis. "A relatively low policy rate will remain appropriate."

Despite administration talk of large tax cuts and infrastructure spending, actions that could stoke inflation in an economy considered near full employment, Bullard said inflation expectations remain low.

"It does not appear that undue inflationary pressure is building so far," Bullard said.

The Fed raised its policy rate in December, the second such move in two years. That glacial pace is expected to accelerate this year. Policymakers are eager to move as far as possible from the zero lower bound hit during the financial crisis, and the economy is near the Fed's goals of two percent inflation and full employment.

Bullard said it may not be clear how Trump's policies will play out until at least next year or later.

"Whether the new administration's policies represent a 'regime shift' depends on whether these policies will have a sustained impact on productivity," Bullard said.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)