Oil could be US economy spoiler

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11/10/2000 09:57 - (SA)

Oil could be US economy spoiler

Washington  Two US Federal Reserve officials on Tuesday said they were optimistic about the current path of the US economy but said higher energy costs could become a bump in the road if they climb further.

Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig and his counterpart in Dallas, Robert McTeer, both said the US economy is strong even though growth appears to be slowing.

"The data coming in are mixed but, overall, I would say signs are that the economy is moderating." Hoenig, speaking at a forum sponsored by the Kansas City Fed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said.

"It is moderating and I think that helps," he said, noting that the US Gross Domestic Product had previously been racing ahead at levels that had the potential to be inflationary.

McTeer, noted for his enthusiasm for the benefits of technological advances, also delivered an upbeat message.

"I might say, that my optimism continues to be rewarded," McTeer told the World Affairs Council and Texas International Trade Alliance in Houston.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates six times from June 1999 until May in an effort to slow the US economy to a less inflationary level. Neither Hoenig nor McTeer is a voting member this year on the Fed's rate-setting committee, which rotates votes among the regional presidents.

Last week, the committee left rates unchanged but warned that energy prices and tight labour markets could pose an inflation risk.

Both Hoenig and McTeer said policymakers must keep a close eye on skyrocketing oil prices out of fear they may tip the economy into an inflationary spiral.

"We've seen energy prices accelerate up and while energy is a less significant part of our economy today than it was in the 70s -- when we had the oil crisis -- it is still important and shouldn't be taken for granted," Hoenig said.

If prices moderate, then "our economy will move on," he said. "But if it continues to accelerate up, then we have to be aware of that and of course it will influence the economy."

McTeer said the higher energy costs made him "less optimistic" about the US economy. Pressed by reporters, he said: "I don't really expect inflation to pick up that much because of oil. It's just that if I have to make a list of my concerns that is sort of near the top."

Oil prices have stayed stubbornly high, although they are now trading below the post-gulf war high of $37.80 a barrel hit on September 20. On Tuesday, the price of crude oil trading in New York climbed more than 4% to $33 a barrel.

Many Fed officials have argued that because the US economy has become so much more diverse over the last decades, it is less vulnerable now to oil shocks.

Hoenig said he expected US economic growth will be in the range of 3.5% and 4.5% in the year ahead. GDP rose at a revised 5.6% annual rate in the second quarter of this year after climbing 4.8% in the first quarter.

-- (M@rket.trends), October 12, 2000


Nope, Y2K was the spoiler. I saw inflation starting to get bad 6 months ago. All of these businesses now posting poor earnings are finally paying all the money for bills from fixing Y2K and getting new systems. They're just using oil prices as the scapegoat.

-- (y2k@bills.due), October 12, 2000.

The markets have been tumbling ever since the Y2K bills came due at the end of the 1st quarter 2000, and have been tumbling ever since. Oils has little to do with it.

DOW 1YR... -3.27, SINCE JAN. 1... -1083.33

NASDAQ 1YR... +296.06, SINCE JAN. 1... -900.82

S&P 500 1YR... +51.55, SINCE JAN. 1... -104.66

-- (y2k@goin.down), October 12, 2000.

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