Fed's Yellen signals higher chance of March rate hike

Gold prices were on track for their weakest session since December on Thursday, buoyed by a firm dollar and rising USA rate hike expectations in March following buoyant United States economic data and hawkish comments from Federal Reserve governors.

The Federal Open Market Committee, the group that decides when interest rates will move, next meets from March 14 to 15.

The Fed will get to see one more employment report before they decide the direction of interest rates, when the Labor Department releases data for February on March 10, and will see two inflation reports the following week.

And New York Fed Chief William Dudley said the case for a rate increase has become "a lot more compelling".

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It comes a month after a controversial U.S. raid that was reported to have left as many as 25 Yemeni civilians dead. He went on to say that the United States is providing Saudi Arabia with coordinates to strike targets in Yemen.

On Tuesday, two influential Fed policymakers, William Dudley and John Williams, encouraged dollar bulls with comments that suggested rate-setters are anxious about waiting too long in the face of pending economic stimulus from Washington.

If the expected hawkishness continued the rand was bound to weaken, he said.

"We now judge that it will be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate if the economic data continue to come in about as we expect", Yellen said.

The Fed's employment goal has largely been met, Yellen said, and inflation is perking up.

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However, Yellen said, "I now see no evidence that the Federal Reserve has fallen behind the curve".

"The March rate hike probability already rests at 77% according to the Fed funds futures, implying that this is the market's base case scenario, and comments hinting anything different than that will come as a surprise", he added.

The Fed raised interest rates for only the second time in a decade at its policy meeting last December, but has forecast three rate increases this year on the back of the low unemployment rate - now 4.8 per cent - and rising inflation. - Fed Board of Governors member Lael Brainard gave strong signals of an upcoming rate hike. "The market's pricing it pretty accurately", he said, noting expectations were at 28 per cent at the start of the year.

"The economy appears to be at a transition", Brainard, who generally errs on the side of caution when it comes to adjusting monetary policy, said in a prepared speech at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government Wednesday.

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"Fiscal and regulatory policies - which are of course the responsibility of the administration and the Congress - are best suited to address such adverse structural trends", she said, including the relatively worse economic circumstances for blacks and Hispanics, and slow productivity. "The Fed is notorious for waiting until the evidence of growth is absolutely undeniable".


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