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Fed's Harker: one interest rate cut this year my base case

Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington

(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve would be able to cut its benchmark interest rate once this year, Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said on Monday, if his economic forecast plays out.

"If all of it happens to be as forecasted, I think one rate cut would be appropriate by year's end," Harker said in prepared remarks to an event hosted by the regional central bank in Philadelphia, after outlining his view that he sees slowing but above-trend economic growth, a modest rise in the unemployment rate, and a "long glide" back to target for inflation as his base case.

The U.S. central bank kept interest rates unchanged in the 5.25-5.50% range at its policy meeting last week as it seeks to keep pressure on the economy to cool inflation back to the Fed's 2% target rate. Inflation by the Fed's preferred measure was running at a 2.7% annual rate in April.

Harker said that while last week's Consumer Price Index reading was "very welcome," progress on inflation so far this year has been modest and he needs to analyze more data over the coming months in order to take a decision given the overall choppiness.

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The Fed's policy rate needs to remain unchanged for now, Harker added, in order to also mitigate upside risks, such as the potential long-term stubbornness of elevated shelter inflation and "the continually high rate of inflation in the services sector, notably auto insurance and repairs."

Harker nevertheless did not rule out changing his view on rates as more economic data is parsed. "I see two cuts, or none, for this year as quite possible if the data break one way or another...we will remain data dependent," he said.

At the latest policy meeting, the median forecast among the Fed's 19 policymakers was for a single interest rate cut this year while financial markets currently expect two rate cuts by year-end.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci)