The Fed has ‘time to wait’ while hiking rates, former vice chair Fischer says

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Inflation continues to be pretty much as subdued as it was when Stanley Fischer stepped down from the Fed, the former central bank vice chairman said Wednesday.

As his former colleagues plan to continue what has been a steady rate-hiking cycle, Fischer said they have “some time to wait” as conditions unfold.

“When I left, which was only six or seven months ago [in October 2017], all the concerns were we’re not seeing any inflation,” said told CNBC’s Leslie Picker during an interview on the sidelines of the Context Leadership Summit in Las Vegas. “I don’t think we’re seeing a whole lot more inflation than we saw at that time.”

Indicators on one of the Fed’s key economic points have been mixed lately.

The personal consumption expenditures index, which is the Fed’s preferred measure, rose 1.9 percent excluding food and energy, in March, and was up 2 percent on a headline basis. The Fed considers 2 percent inflation to be an ideal level.

However, wage growth has remained below what policymakers would like to see.

Still, the Fed has continued to raise interest rates, with the next hike widely expected to happen in June. Officials have worried that continuing to keep rates low runs the risk of creating financial imbalances like asset bubbles, and gives the Fed little wiggle room to handle the next crisis.

“Central banks who don’t look at inflation and don’t worry about inflation can make more mistakes than they should,” Fischer said.

He stated that the Fed has “done a pretty good job” at achieving its goals of full employment and price stability and expects “they’ll find their way to good policy.”

At an earlier panel talk with Mohamed El-Erian, the chief economic advisor at Allianz, Fischer said the Fed “will have some room to move” in the next downturn, though maybe not as much as normal.

He also said the current members should prepare to handle some kind of emergency.

“My advice is to get ready, you will experience a crisis,” he said. “Almost every central banker experiences a crisis at some time … Bernanke got it, Yellen avoided it through excellent management and some good luck.”

Investors have been watching both the Fed with its target rate, currently at 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, as well as the path of the 10-year Treasury note, which again touched 3 percent Wednesday.

Whether the benchmark government debt instrument will hit 4 percent will be a function both of the market and economic conditions, El-Erian said.

“The technical argument will tend to support the economical argument to moving up from where we are,” he said.

—CNBC’s Dawn Giel contributed to this report.

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