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Fed's Evans urges waiting a 'bit longer' on rate hikes

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(Reuters) - Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans on Friday said he wanted the U.S. central bank to keep interest-rate increases on hold until after March to allow inflation a chance to rise and even exceed the Fed’s 2-percent target.

“My own preference would be to wait a little bit longer,” Evans said in a CNBC interview. “We could go midyear and all of a sudden see, ‘wow, inflation continues to move up towards 2 percent, I’m much more confident’ and we continue an upward gradual adjustment of the funds rate.”

Separately in a Bloomberg TV interview, Evans reiterated that point, and said that while he sees the merits of arguments for raising rates sooner, the Fed does have the scope to be “careful and patient” on rate hikes given low inflation.

The Fed is widely expected to raise rates later this month, and two more times before the end of the year. Traders stuck to those expectations after a government report early Friday showed job gains surged in February but average hourly wages rose just four cents, slower than expected.

Evans told both networks that the February jobs report was good news in that it showed more people entering the labor force, with the participation rate rising to a five-month high of 63 percent. But, Evans added, with strong hiring and an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, he had hoped that wage growth would be stronger. He also said he would rather wait at least until inflation data for March had been released before raising rates.

Fiscal stimulus from the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion tax overhaul and the latest deficit-fueled budget could propel the U.S. economy to 3 percent growth this year, Evans said, but “I continue to be nervous that inflation is under-running 2 percent,” he told CNBC.

If the Fed waits until midyear to raise rates, Evans said, it could still deliver two to four rate hikes this year and a “gradual” pace of rate hikes as the Fed has promised.

“I think we really have the ability to be cautious,” he said.

Asked about the tariffs U.S. President Donald Trump announced this week on steel and aluminum, Evans said as an economist he supports freer and fairer trade.

“Tariffs can sometimes get out of hand and lead to problems,” he said. “If that escalates, tit for tat, that could be unhealthy.”

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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