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No rush to raise interest rates, says Fed official

Lael Brainard Image copyright AFP

There is no rush to raise interest rates, a Federal Reserve board member has said a week before the US central bank announces its latest decision.

Economic weakness "counsels prudence", said Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed's Open Market Committee, which decides interest rates.

Her comments come after several Fed officials recently suggested a rate rise this month should be considered.

Ms Brainard has consistently voted against an increase.

Speaking in Chicago, Ms Brainard said the risk that higher rates would damage a fragile US economy exceeded the risk that higher rates would increase inflation.

Her caution follows comments by Boston Fed chief Eric Rosengren on Friday that there was a case for higher rates.

Earlier on Monday, Dennis Lockhart, Atlanta Federal Reserve president, said he still believed that economic conditions justified considering a rate rise this month.

The Fed raised interest rates in December for the first time since 2006, but has held back from increasing them further amid concerns over persistently low inflation.

However, last month Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said the case for a hike "had strengthened".

The speculation over the Fed's next move comes amid a claim from Donald Trump that the US central bank was keeping interest rates low to boost the popularity of President Barack Obama.

Image copyright AP

The US Republican presidential candidate said Ms Yellen was "obviously political" and had created a "false" stock market by keeping rates low.

Economists and commentators were quick to dismiss his comments, with academic and commentator Paul Krugman tweeting: "In ordinary times this combo of ignorance and paranoia would be shocking. In this election, who'll even notice."

Rates are unlikely to rise until there is a new president, according to Mr Trump. When that happens, the stock market is likely to go "way down", he told CNBC.

"[Ms Yellen] is obviously political and she's doing what Obama wants her to do," Mr Trump said.

Responding to his comments, Minneapolis Federal Reserve president Neel Kashkari told CNBC that at Federal Reserve meetings "politics simply does not come up".

"We look at the economic data," he said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Donald Trump accused Fed chief Janet Yellen of being "obviously political"

When asked about political pressure on the Federal Reserve, Mr Lockhart said: "I don't see the world that way."

Earlier this month, Ms Yellen said the case for raising US interest rates had "strengthened".

Speaking at an annual meeting of central bankers, Ms Yellen was cautiously upbeat about the US economy.

She said economic growth and a stronger jobs market meant "the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months".

Savers hit

Mr Trump said that while low interest rates had been good for his property business, savers had been hit.

"The ones that did it right, they saved their money. They cut down on their mortgages... now they're getting practically zero interest on the money that they worked so hard for."

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