US Federal Reserve Governor Michelle Bowman attends a “Fed Listens” event at the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington, DC, on October 4, 2019. 

Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images

Federal Reserve Governor Michelle Bowman said Friday that it’s possible interest rates may have to move higher to control inflation, rather than the cuts her fellow officials have indicated are likely and that the market is expecting.

Noting a number of potential upside risks to inflation, Bowman said policymakers need to be careful not to ease policy too quickly.

“While it is not my baseline outlook, I continue to see the risk that at a future meeting we may need to increase the policy rate further should progress on inflation stall or even reverse,” she said in prepared remarks for a speech to a group of Fed watchers in New York. “Reducing our policy rate too soon or too quickly could result in a rebound in inflation, requiring further future policy rate increases to return inflation to 2 percent over the longer run.”

As a member of the Board of Governors, Bowman is a permanent voting member of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. Since taking office in late 2018, her public speeches have put her on the more hawkish side of the FOMC, meaning she favors a more aggressive posture toward containing inflation.

Bowman said her most likely outcome remains that “it will eventually become appropriate to lower” rates, though she noted that “we are still not yet at the point” of cutting as “I continue to see a number of upside risks to inflation.”

The speech, to the Shadow Open Market Committee, comes with markets on edge about the near-term future of Fed policy. Statements this week from multiple officials, including Chair Jerome Powell, have indicated a cautious approach to cutting rates. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, an FOMC voter, told CNBC he likely sees just one reduction this year, and Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari indicated no cuts could happen if inflation does not decelerate further.

Futures traders are pricing in three cuts this year, though it has become a close call between June and July for when they start. FOMC members in March also penciled in three cuts this year, though one unidentified official in the “dot plot” indicated no decreases until 2026 and there was considerable dispersion otherwise about how aggressively the central bank would move.

“Given the risks and uncertainties regarding my economic outlook, I will continue to watch the data closely as I assess the appropriate path of monetary policy, and I will remain cautious in my approach to considering future changes in the stance of policy,” Bowman said.

Weighing inflation risks, she said that supply-side improvements that helped bring numbers down this year may not have the same impact going forward. Moreover, she cited geopolitical risks and fiscal stimulus as other upside hazards, along with stubbornly higher housing prices and labor market tightness.

“Inflation readings over the past two months suggest progress may be uneven or slower going forward, especially for core services,” Bowman said.

Fed officials will get their next look at inflation data Wednesday, when the Labor Department releases the March consumer price index report.

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