Bankers should be bracing themselves for higher interest rates, according to economists polled in the latest American Banker yield and rate survey.
Despite modest inflation and scattered signs of cooling in the nation's economy, all 10 participants in the survey anticipate further tightening of credit by the Federal Reserve.
Indeed, several economists believe that short-term rates will be as higher, or maybe even higher, than their previous peak in early 1995, when the central bank completed its last tightening regimen.
The Fed's Open Market Committee, which increased rates on March 25, convenes Tuesday in Washington. Chairman Alan Greenspan has hinted strongly that another rate move is imminent.
John O. Wilson, chief economist at BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco, expects a federal funds rate of 6.25% and a bank prime lending rate of 9.25% by Sept. 30, a quarter of a percentage point beyond their 1995 highs.
The funds rate, which is the overnight lending rate for excess bank reserves, is currently targeted by the Fed at 5.5%.
Mr. Wilson views the economy as continuing to expand too fast for the Fed's comfort and anticipates that a series of central bank moves will be needed to bring it back onto what economists call the sustainable noninflationary growth path.
Half the economists surveyed think the Fed will push through one further quarter-point rate hike as an insurance move to quell any incipient inflation in the economy after its barn-burning first-quarter performance. Gross domestic product grew at a 5.6% annual rate during the winter quarter.
Most others think another half-point increase, in either one or two installments, is likely. But some think the Fed will pass at its Tuesday meeting and await further data before proceeding.
The economists' universal expectation of further rate rises is based on both economic history-the Fed has almost never either tightened or eased credit in single steps-and Mr. Greenspan's strikingly forceful rejoinder to criticism that the Fed is chasing phantom inflation.
Speaking recently at New York University, his alma mater, the Fed chairman said: "Those who wish for us, in the current environment, to await clearly visible signs of emerging inflation are recommending we return to a failed regime of monetary policy that cost jobs and living standards."