Fed's Williams urges U.S. central bank to stay on track with rate rises

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[March 29, 2016]  By Lindsay Dunsmuir
 (Reuters) - The U.S. economy remains on track for a gradual path of rate hikes and fears over the impact of a slowing global economy and bouts of financial volatility are overdone, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Tuesday.

"Others' economic fates do not spell our own," Williams said in prepared remarks before an audience at the National University of Singapore. "My view is essentially, let's just stay on track. Let's not get sidelined by the noise and distraction commentary can sometimes cause."

The U.S. central bank left interest rates unchanged two weeks ago and signaled its cautiousness by forecasting two further rate hikes this year, down from four at its December meeting, when the Fed raised rates from near zero for the first time in almost a decade.

But Williams, who has been consistent in providing a more upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy over the past few months, said he expects the unemployment rate to fall to about 4.5 percent by late 2016 and for inflation to return to the Fed's two-percent target over the next two years.

"We're not quite where I'd like us to be, but recent developments have been very encouraging and add to my confidence that we're on course to reach our (inflation) goal," he said, citing an uptick in oil prices and a stabilizing dollar.

Overall the U.S. economy "keeps chugging ahead," he said.

On the global front, where some of his colleagues argue that the United States cannot uncouple itself from international economic and financial developments, Williams stressed that forecasts for global economic growth are far from dire.

The International Monetary Fund predicts about 3.5 percent global GDP growth this year, down only one-half percentage point from a year ago, he said.

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"I don't see a looming global crisis," Williams said, adding that he continues to think China will avoid a hard landing.

Two Fed policymakers signaled last week that another rate increase could come as early as at the next meeting of the U.S. central bank on April 26-27.

However, lackluster consumer spending and inflation data on Monday curbed investor bets on when the next rate rise will be.

U.S. interest rate futures currently suggest traders see a 12 percent chance of a rate hike next month, according to CME Group's FedWatch.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen may offer more hints on the central bank's latest thinking when she speaks in New York later on Tuesday at 12:20 EDT/16:20 GMT.

Williams is not a voting member of Fed's rate-setting committee this year but participates in deliberations.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Diane Craft)

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