Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said the central bank is nearing its dual goals and seems to be headed for the monetary policy path that officials had anticipated.
"I don't want to give you numbers on two or three, but this is consistent with what we had thought should be happening around now -- that is that we'd be moving closer to the 2 percent inflation rate, and that the labor market would continue to strengthen," Fischer said when asked about the rate outlook Thursday on Bloomberg Television in an interview with Tom Keene. "If those two things happen, we'll be on the path that we more or less expected."
Fed officials are looking for three rate increases in 2017, based on the median in their most recent economic projections. Investors had expected this year's first increase to come in June up until this week, but two days of relatively hawkish congressional testimony from Fed Chair Janet Yellen and a strong inflation reading for January have boosted expectations in markets for a rate increase as early as March or May.
The Fed is trying to avoid hiking rates too quickly and choking off growth at a time when labor market tightness is finally translating into slightly higher wages. At the same time, officials don't want to allow the economy to heat up so much that inflation substantially overshoots their 2 percent goal.
Fischer noted that wage growth has "started happening," calling the incoming data on pay "not far off of where we thought it would be."
"We've said for a long time, we expect interest rates to be gradual, and if they reach the level of previous years it will be a matter of years," Fischer said in the interview. "We will be aiming and very likely will be close to 2 percent inflation and full employment, somewhere around where we are now, possibly a bit lower."
Fed officials, who raised rates by a quarter percentage-point in December and left them on hold earlier this month, will meet next on March 14-15.
When Fed officials projected three quarter-point rate increases this year in their December outlook, it marked an upgrade from the two moves they had forecast three months earlier. The change was partly in response to economic progress, and some officials also began incorporating into their outlook assumptions about possible pro-growth fiscal policies.
President Donald Trump has promised tax cuts and infrastructure spending that could have growth impact if enacted. The White House has yet to detail those plans.
"We haven't very much changed our view of where we will be" since the election, Fischer said. "We do expect the economy to be growing at a reasonable rate."
Fischer, 73, has been second-in-command at the Fed since 2014 and has a term that lasts until June 2018. He is formerly the Bank of Israel's governor and Citigroup's vice chairman.